BELL COUNTY, Ky. — A heartfelt delivery from upstate New York made it to the mountains of Eastern Kentucky just in time for the holidays.

What You Need To Know

  • Red Bird Mission supports families in Bell, Clay & Leslie County

  • Churches in upstate New York collected and shipped gifts and personal care items to help Kentuckians in need

  • Poverty rates in this area of Kentucky are some of the highest in the country 

  • Red Bird provides food, water, clothing and ministry to families

The Mountains of Eastern Kentucky tell a story of beauty and heartbreak. In a word, its scenic views are captivating.

"I’ve seen the beauty of the gray in these mountains," said Tim Crawford, development director of Red Bird Mission.

But it was the coal within the mountains that created an industry that would keep families here for generations. Over decades, the decline of this industry has created hardships for all of the region's residents.

Crawford said even after the collapse of coal, many families stayed though thousands of jobs were gone.

“The ripple effect is what you see. We always said, families that can leave, left. They had the ability to move and leave," Crawford said. "Some stayed... This is where I’ve been all along.”

Red Bird Mission, located nearly Beverly, Kentucky, is hidden away in the Daniel Boone National Forest. Red Bird provides food, water and clothing, in addition to economic, health and educational ministries in 3 isolated counties of Kentucky.

Tracy Nolan, right, leads community outreach at Red Bird. (Spectrum News 1/Jonathon Gregg)

Red Bird is approaching 100 years of existence in an area Crawford has called home for more than 30 years.

“It’s a great place to live. I’ve raised two daughters in these mountains," Crawford said.

As beautiful as the area is, Bell, Clay and Leslie counties have some of the highest rates of poverty in the country. With the exit of coal jobs, opportunities for employment are limited for anyone living in the area.

“Well, that’s the whole issue," Crawford explained. "Basically we’re down to health care, education.”

And the people who need the most help are often the hardest to reach. Driving to a grocery story or an advanced health care clinic can take hours when living in this region. That fact alone makes Red Bird a vital part of this mountain community.

Red Bird offers clinical and dental care, a pantry and is in the midst of expanding career training opportunities for residents struggling find a career after coal.

That’s part of what makes the recent delivery to Red Bird so special. On Dec. 1, two large boxed trucks traveled hundreds miles from Upstate New York carrying personal care supplies and gifts that will benefit thousands Kentuckians. The items were collected by dozens of congregations.

"Partnering with New York and this tremendous collection, we [can] serve up to 4,000 children," said Tracy Nolan, director of community outreach at Red Bird.

25 years ago, Nolan came to Red Bird for a two-year nursing internship at its clinic, but never left.

3 of the 4 church volunteers who drove from Endwell United Methodist Church in upstate New York. (Spectrum News 1/Jonathon Gregg)

“And I continue to stay here to serve God’s people," she said. "I am in a community where there is so much talent and resilience and worth.”

The items delivered on this day will be distributed among many small church congregations checkering the many hollers winding between the sloping Eastern Kentucky landscape.

Pastor Dwayne Yost worked for Red Bird more than fifty years ago.

“If I live another 3 weeks I’ll be 87," Yost said with a smile. He's collecting donations for parishioners at Flat Creek and Mud Lick Churches of the Brethren.

“It’s wonderful to be a part of God’s work wherever it is. Whether it’s at Red Bird or if it’s in New York where they put these boxes together," he said. "You know, it’s wonderful we can all work together.”