Fueling the Spirit of Giving

If you’ve ever been to a Mountain Empire Older Citizens Walkathon, there’s a good chance Anne Newlun was there.

Newlun, or “Miss Anne” as most people in Norton, where she lives and taught at Norton Elementary School for 49 years, affectionately call her, is among the event’s most loyal supporters. She has participated in the annual Walkathon to raise money for MEOC’s Emergency Fuel Fund for the Elderly for decades, faithfully gathering donations and often walking in the event with a group of her students. She plans to be there for the 48th Walkathon this year. That event is set for May 5 at 2 p.m. at Bullitt Park, Big Stone Gap.

The Emergency Fuel Fund for the Elderly operates entirely with donations and would not exist without dedicated supporters like Newlun and others like her. The program provides crucial heating assistance to older adults in Lee, Scott and Wise counties and the City of Norton. Without it, about 1,000 older adults each year would not receive emergency heating assistance when they are in danger of having their power turned off or close to running out of wood, coal, propane or heating oil. Last winter, the program assisted 1,030 families at the cost of $252,313.

Newlun, a New Jersey native, moved to southwest Virginia and began her teaching career at Norton City Schools in 1974 after finishing her degree at Tusculum College. At that point, she had never even heard of the coalfields, but she fell in love with the region and quickly became one of the most impactful teachers in the area.

Newlun encouraged her early elementary school students to be part of the community and stressed the importance of caring for our area and the people who live here, especially the aging population. “Children should participate in activities and events to help others where they live. It is so important they get to know their community and understand resources. If you start at a young age, you will become lifelong volunteers,” she said.

Newlun would organize class trips to MEOC’s congregate nutrition sites, where her students and the older adults would play bingo, sing songs and eat lunch as a group. One of her classes even prepared a Thanksgiving dinner at their local nutrition site. Newlun also involved her students in MEOC’s Walkathon. “We had lots of fun and laughter during the Walkathon and at the picnics that followed,” said Newlun.

A spirit of community service has allowed the fuel fund to thrive for nearly 50 years. Without the kindness and generosity of Newlun and others like her, older adults like 75-year-old Bill Sheets of Coeburn would have a more difficult time paying heating expenses in the winter.

Sitting in his home on a recent sunny afternoon with his loyal companion Gizmo, a small, fluffy black dog, at his side, Sheets chatted about his life, from his 17 years as a volunteer on the Coeburn Rescue Squad to his memories of his late wife, who passed away three years ago. Sheets, a former coal miner, loves to garden and watch the wildlife that visits his property regularly.

Sheets said the fuel fund is a great help to him in the winter when the temperature drops and it is harder to heat his home. The program paid for $300 worth of propane, which meant he could heat his home and afford other necessities during the coldest months. He relies on two small propane heaters to warm his house. To make his propane last as long as possible, Sheets uses only one until the temperatures drop below freezing. “I don’t even have the words to explain how much the Emergency Fuel Fund has helped me,” he said. Sheets also receives homemaker services through MEOC, and his late wife was a regular at the Coeburn senior nutrition site at one point. “MEOC has been a help to me in so many ways,” he said.


The May 5 Walkathon’s goal is to raise $200,000. The event will take place rain or shine. It will feature a 5K walk following the Greenbelt Trail, with registration starting at 1 p.m. and the walk beginning at 2 p.m. A picnic for all participants will follow.

MEOC Emergency Services Director Marsha Craiger said some corporate sponsorships and donations for the Walkathon have already arrived. So far, the agency has collected about $33,500 toward the goal, and she is hoping for a large crowd at the event.

“The Walkathon is a long-standing tradition in the community, and the fact that it’s entering its 48th year is a testament to the fuel fund’s significance to the region’s older adults,” said Craiger.

“We are so thankful for everyone in the community who gives to the Emergency Fuel Fund. Every penny given helps someone stay warm, including our neighbors, friends and family members. The fuel fund is a perfect testament to the amazing character of the people in our rural area, and that is neighbor taking care of neighbor,” Craiger said.

Participating in the Walkathon is easy, she noted.

  • First, get your forms. You may download them HERE.
  • Next, start collecting pledges. Ask your family, friends, neighbors, coworkers and others to support your cause. Every penny makes a difference and goes directly to help an older adult in need. Raise at least $100 to receive a Walkathon T-shirt.
  • Finally, join other supporters at Bullitt Park on May 5 for the event.

MEOC is also seeking the support of corporate sponsors for the event. Sponsorship levels and promotional benefits for businesses are available upon request.

If you cannot walk but would like to support the cause, you can easily contribute:

  • Click HERE to make an online donation using PayPal.
  • Text DONATE to (276) 242-3525.
  • Mail a check to MEOC, P.O. Box 888, Big Stone Gap, VA 24219.

Finally, said Craiger, everyone can help by telling family, friends, and neighbors about this cause.