45th Walkathon boosts Emergency Fuel Fund

The 45th Annual Mountain Empire Older Citizens Walkathon so far has raised $116,650 to help heat the homes of local older adults in need this coming winter.

Held Sunday, Aug. 29, on Big Stone Gap’s Greenbelt Trail, the event was a fundraiser for MEOC’s Emergency Fuel Fund for the Elderly. That fund assists older people in Lee, Scott and Wise counties and the City of Norton with heating emergencies during winter months. Those who are at least age 60 whose income is at or below 150 percent of federal poverty guidelines are eligible for assistance.

This year’s Walkathon goal was $165,000. Organizers still hope to hit that mark before the Nov. 1 start of the fuel season. Contributions are expected to continue arriving in coming weeks.

With the temperature around 90 degrees during the 5K walk, it was the agency’s hottest event on record. The Walkathon is typically held the first Sunday in May, but the pandemic prompted a shift in this year’s date. The 2020 fundraiser was held virtually.

MEOC Emergency Services Director Marsha Craiger is thankful for the turnout at the Aug. 29 event.

“I am always humbled by the amount of support we receive for the Emergency Fuel Fund for the Elderly,” noted Craiger. “MEOC is so thankful for every individual, business, church and community group who give to help their older friends and neighbors. We are blessed to live in a community where people never fail to step up when there is a need,” she added.

Community support is essential to the fuel fund’s existence because it receives no state or federal funding. And no administrative costs are paid using the fund. Every cent goes directly to help pay an electric bill or purchase wood, coal, propane or heating oil for an older person in danger of being without heat.

MEOC Executive Director Michael Wampler is optimistic this year’s fundraising goal will still be met. “Those who were unable to walk on the day of the event can still help. We heard from some who planned on completing their own 5K on a cooler day, so we are hopeful those pledges, along with additional donations, will help us reach our goal,” said Wampler.

This year’s Walkathon community sponsors include Humphreys/Red River Coal, Hilb Group/CSE Agency, Old Dominion Power, Ballad Health, FasMart/Roadrunner Markets/Scotchman, Dominion Energy, University of Virginia’s College at Wise, Erie Insurance, Lee County Board of Supervisors, Scott County Board of Supervisors, Wise County Board of Supervisors, MEOC staff, Anthem HealthKeepers Plus, Crutchfield, Enterprise, AARP and Wolfe, Williams & Reynolds.

Donations are welcome any time. Make an online donation here. Mail checks to MEOC, Attn: EFF, P.O. Box 888, Big Stone Gap, Va. 24219. Or drop off donations to MEOC’s administrative offices at 1501 Third Ave. E., Big Stone Gap. Call the agency at (276) 523-4202 for more information about the fuel fund.

Walkathon participants who still need to pick up their T-shirts and goody bags may do so Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., at MEOC’s main offices at 1501 3rd Ave. E., Big Stone Gap.