MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Can a letter to a newspaper editor make a change? Tom Ressler thought so. He recently wrote a letter to The Journal expressing his concerns about those in poverty in the southern part of West Virginia.
His letter made an impact on Taffy Horner, who decided to take matters into her own hands.
“The way it all came about is, Mr. Ressler wrote a letter to the editor,” said Horner. “I don’t know Mr. Ressler, and in it he had said, ‘There are people in Southern West Virginia,’ and he named three particular counties, ‘that are in great need.’ I thought I ought to send something, so I started looking for a contact person to find out what they needed.”
Horner made contact with the Salvation Army in Chapmansville, W.Va., and was informed of some of the requests they had received from children.
“One family of four asked for mattresses because they slept on the floor. A little six-year-old boy asked for heat, and I thought, how sad,” Horner said. That is when she turned to family and friends on Facebook.
“I’m not the hero here.” she said. “On the seventh of December I asked friends, and by the ninth, I had fifty-five coats; brand new. And, people donated scarves, and gloves and hats, and I matched them up. Pajamas, socks, underwear, sweatshirts, all brand new, with the tags still hanging on them; when I added it up I had $3,000, retail, in goods.”
She also received money. A check arrived from Florida and another from Frederick, Maryland. The local Masonic Lodge donated $250. Friends donated money and “a couple of good friends, that really can’t afford to part with anything, called me and donated what they could give; which was about $20. I know that was a hardship for them, but they wanted to be a part of it.”
She packed it into her car and at 5 a.m., she left for Logan County, by herself, and drove 723 miles round trip. The Ressler letter continued to bring even more generosity. Horner stopped for gas in Morgantown and a young man was cleaning the parking lot. She shared her story with him as she fueled her vehicle. She then went inside to pay. “The girl [at the register] said ‘There’s no charge, get anything you want, there is no charge,” Horner said. When she asked the clerk why, she was informed that Kevin, the young man cleaning the trash up, had paid for it. He was moved by her story.
Lt. Chansey Johnson, of the Salvation Army in Chapmansville, knew exactly how to move the donations and who needed them. “We have already distributed the items to the families,” Johnson said. “Today it is freezing, so I am sure there are a lot of children that are very appreciative of those coats.”
The little boy without heat also received his Christmas wish. Horner used the cash to pay for heat in his home.
Horner made the trip back home but was still concerned about the family that needed the mattress. She told her husband and he told her to call a store, make the purchase, then send the Salvation Army over to get and deliver it. They did.
“Many of our families are in great need of coats; especially the family that she donated the mattress to,” Johnson said. “They were very grateful; the woman was overcome. We have seen an influx of families coming to us, not just for our Christmas assistance, but also, we do a food pantry and we have seen those numbers raise as well.”
Horner and Ressler met for the first time while coming together for a photograph for this article. They quickly began comparing notes.
Ressler, who was also planning to make a trip to coal country in a couple of months, said, “I’m glad she had a chance to take stuff out there. I was raised in a part of Pennsylvania, on the back of strip mines, and I know that everything we donate to them (southern West Virginia) will be used and appreciated. We need to take it to the areas where poverty is the greatest and help the people in West Virginia; and hopefully this has inspired her and, maybe, some other people.”
“My hope is that next year I can find some people in McDowell County, which is actually one of the poorest counties in our state, that will spearhead from that end, and we can actually take a U-Haul full of stuff down. I can’t imagine being a parent and realizing that on Christmas morning you don’t have anything to give to your children,” Horner said. “If we can do this much in such a little bit of time with so few people, I think we can do amazing things next year.”
To make a donation or volunteer for next year, Horner can be reached at [email protected]