Mildred Queen has worked with Mission of Hope for more than 20 years, and has been touched by many of the people and circumstances in the poor Appalachian region the ministry serves.
“These are the poorest of the poor,” said the First Baptist Concord member who coordinates the organization’s clothing ministry with Mary Emma Bunch.
But one encounter in particular has stayed with her.
“We had been distributing at one very small school, and a man asked us what we were going to do with what was left over,” she recalled, and noticed he was eyeing some ball caps.
Christmas deliveries primarily target children in rural schools located in upper East Tennessee and Southeast Kentucky, but Queen told the man he could have one.
“There were tears in his eyes as he said, ‘I myself, can have a baseball hat?’
“I told him it was a free gift to him, and he was just so grateful, it touched me too.”
She said there are many other stories of hope and encouragement Mission of Hope has been able to facilitate.
“A few years ago, there was a little boy who had [terminal] cancer,” she said. “And they made sure he had a very sweet and comfortable Christmas. Then there was one year they told us not to send a coat this year for one child because [he] did not have any arms. [Mission of Hope] was able to sew two capes together, to make sure that child was taken care of.”
Right now, Queen and hundreds of other area volunteers furiously are working toward next month’s Christmas deliveries, which will see trucks filled with toys, clothing and food items delivered to each of the 28 rural schools Mission of Hope serves.
There, pre-selected children will receive a complete set of new clothing, including a coat, pants, shoes, socks, underwear, a shirt and gloves.
Additionally, tables are laden with food and toys for distribution, and sibling tables also are available, so the children can make sure their brothers and sisters are not omitted.
The organization is relying on its ongoing Christmas Campaign and Blue Barrel Collection, running through Tuesday, Dec. 5, to fulfill the ministry’s holiday needs. Barrels are at all Chick-fil-A and Fisher Tire locations, Home Federal bank, Knoxville TVA Employee’s Credit Union and several area churches including First Baptist Concord.
Mission of Hope also was recently given a boost at the Pinnacle at Turkey Creek, where the annual Lights Up Christmas tree lighting event brought in Blue Barrel donations and around $4,000.
In addition to non-perishable food, hygiene items and new clothing and toys, cash donations help purchase specialized clothing items not readily available, Queen said.
The efforts will all work together to serve an estimated 18,000 children this year, and recipients always are overjoyed with the bounty.
“It is just so precious to see their faces when they see the mile-high tables,” Queen said. “They are just so thankful, so grateful, for what has been done for them.”
Fisher Tire owner Ray Fisher has long been a proponent of Mission of Hope, and works year round for the ministry. In addition to Christmas and back-to-school backpack/school supply deliveries, the organization takes donations of food, clothing, furniture and household items throughout the year to offer perpetual assistance.
“I love working together with other people — it really is a team effort,” Fisher said.
“And I love getting to see the end results.”
About Emmette Thompson, Mission of Hope executive director, Fisher said, “His thought was to change the poverty direction through a scholarship program. So far, about 60-something scholarships have been given, and there have been 16 or 17 graduates from four-year schools.“It is a way to [help them] get out of the cycle of poverty.
“What we offer them is hope,” Fisher added. “A lot of the people up there live without hope, but that is what we offer them — and it’s huge.”
“Hope is what Christmas means — it is the birth of our Lord. It is beyond the material part. It is hope we can pass along, and they can too.”
For more photos from this event, please see our online photo gallery here.