McCreary County, Kentucky is the poorest U.S. county

With a median household income of $19,328

William Cooper Faith In Action Award

Presented to Hilton and Barb

by Governor Matt Bevin

for their work

at Integrated Community Ministries

Hilton and Barbara honored

At Governor's Prayer Breakfast

Coach Calipari Talks Teamwork at Prayer Breakfast

USA Today  Tom Loftus , @TomLoftus_CJ Published 1:12 p.m. ET Feb. 16, 2016

McCreary County Poorest in Nation

A North and South still divided: New data reveals the poorest counties in America, where household incomes are up to $35,000 lower than the state average

By Sophie Jane Evans For

Published: 15:20 EST, 11 January 2015 | Updated: 09:56 EST, 12 January 2015

Charity Brings Cheer to a Poor Kentucky Community

Published in Beacon News - Milton/Alpharetta on December 3, 2007

Author/Source: Daniel Tyree McElrath 

When Lisa Beharelle and Eva Buckingham decided to help the less fortunate, they didn’t imagine that the spirit of generosity they would tap into would fill four 26-foot trucks.

But that’s what it has come to.

Beharelle was searching for a charitable cause to embrace, and her friend Buckingham, a missionary, had heard of the impoverished conditions in McCreary County, Ky. In 2001, the two Alpharetta women got the names of needy children in McCreary and secured sponsors for each in order to send them gifts.

But it was not until a trip to McCreary County that Beharelle came to fully understand the kind of deprivation she was dealing with. In McCreary she met Barbara Duncan of Integrated Community Ministries – and confronted poverty on a level she did not know still existed in America.

“One family had a pump in the kitchen, and that was their only source of water,” Beharelle recalled. One family had only recently gotten electricity.

The problem with small, remote communities like McCreary, which is the only county in Kentucky without an incorporated city, is that there are few if any social services. And because almost no one has much to give, there’s little in the way of local charity.

Duncan herself was operating out of a small abandoned building with no heat or running water. She distributed whatever clothes and food she could round up to the neediest local residents. 

A Little Help from Their Friends

Working together, Duncan and Beharelle were able to buy new beds for a mother of four whose children had been sleeping on a wooden floor by a wood-burning stove. The woman cried when her kids’ beds were delivered.

When she got back home, Beharelle, who now lives in Milton, wasted no time contacting neighbors and organizations and soliciting private donations. As is often the case, North Fulton residents and organizations were quick to help. Summit Hill Elementary in Alpharetta made the McCreary County effort the 5th grade class project this year. Girl Scouts service units Jubilee, Dreamcatcher, Milton and Greenway also chipped in, as did Boy Scout Pack 3000, Froots Restaurant and Alpharetta International Academy, among others.

UPS is a Major Donor

In 2003, Duncan applied for a grant from UPS Supply Chain Solutions in Alpharetta to create a learning center in McCreary. Beharelle drafted the proposal, and it beat out some 30 other applicants for a $25,000 grant. That money built the Heritage Learning Center, which includes a library and a computer lab. There is also a food pantry made possible by the Second Harvest national charity, a summer lunch program, a fledgling basketball program and a baseball diamond.

“You’ve got to meet people’s basic needs – food, clothing and shelter,” Beharelle said. “But the next things are not as expected. Self-esteem comes next, and sports programs … do this.”

Between Beharelle’s first foray into McCreary County and now, the modest program has grown exponentially. Last week, the two founders, along with Beharelle’s daughter, Kelcie, and a small army of volunteers, loaded the four enormous U-hauls with bicycles and bundled gifts earmarked for underprivileged children in the old Kentucky mining settlement.

“I didn’t really mean for it to get this big,” Beharelle said with a laugh.

A total of 55 volunteers from North Fulton will make the trip to McCreary to distribute the presents to 330 sponsored kids. About 800 people are expected to attend a party on Saturday morning. At that time the families will each be given a now-traditional bag of fruit as well as toiletry items. The kids will get bundles of presents.

And Beharelle and Buckingham, and the other volunteers, will get their annual gift: a deservedly warm feeling in their hearts.

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