Retired teacher remains committed to annual cause

For more than three and one-half decades, Freda Ayers has made participation in the Mountain Empire Older Citizens Walkathon an annual priority.

Ayers, 70, has been a Walkathon participant since 1983, raising money for the Emergency Fuel Fund for the Elderly. That program annually helps more than 1,000 older residents in the region with winter heating costs. A resident of Ewing in Lee County, Ayers stayed committed to the cause this year even though the COVID-19 pandemic altered the traditional format.

The 2020 Walkathon is virtual, meaning participants still collect donations as usual, but complete the 5K walk on their own and submit contributions by Sept. 30. So that’s what Ayers did. She put in her steps one morning near the end of July, then happily delivered her collected donations to MEOC’s Big Stone Gap office. Her envelope contained $955, which she reported was $445 less than last year but explained the reason. Her donations usually include $500 from the church she attends. However, the church had already made its contribution, she noted.

Ayers, a retired Lee County school teacher, is glad for the opportunity to help others in her community. “I just feel like the need is great. I know it’s a good cause, and I know what the money is used for. It goes to people who need it,” she stated.

Every cent Ayers collected will go directly to help older individuals in Lee, Scott and Wise counties and the City of Norton pay for wood, coal, propane, heating oil or electric bills this coming winter. To qualify for assistance, you must be at least age 60 and at or below 150 percent of federal poverty guidelines.

The Emergency Fuel Fund for the Elderly receives no state or federal money. It exists because of donations from businesses, faith organizations, civic groups, local governments and individuals committed to making sure the region’s most vulnerable residents don’t have to choose between staying warm and other things they need, such as food and medications.

This year’s goal is the same as last year’s: $165,000. However, the fundraiser is still $106,670 short of its goal. Organizers are hopeful contributions will increase in the final leg of the campaign.

“We are so appreciative of each and every one of our donors. Every penny donated touches the life of someone right here in our community, helping them at a vulnerable time,” said MEOC Emergency Services Director Marsha Craiger.

“I am proud of our community and the way we come together to take care of each other. While this year’s Walkathon is different, I have faith we will meet our goal and be able to provide help and hope to those in need this winter,” Craiger added.


A virtual walk is a real walk done at your convenience. To participate, simply complete a 5k walk before Sept. 30 at whatever time and location works best for you. You may share pictures, videos and comments on social media using the hashtag #MEOCWalkathon2020 to show your support.

As always, individuals who raise $100 or more will receive MEOC’s annual Walkathon t-shirt.

Dowload your pledge form here.

Click here to make an online donation. Contributions can be also be mailed to MEOC, P.O. Box 888, Big Stone Gap, VA 24219.