Walkathon Is Longtime Community Tradition

A friend asked Lee County resident Dorothy “Dot” Carter (pictured above, second from right) for a simple favor about 35 years ago: Would Carter walk in her place at the Mountain Empire Older Citizens Walkathon?

Carter was happy to help. She went to the Walkathon, which raises money for a program that provides emergency heating assistance to older adults in Lee, Scott and Wise counties and the City of Norton, and fulfilled her friend’s commitment to participate. Carter can’t remember the exact year of her first Walkathon— sometime in the 1980s — but she loved it and the cause it supports.

Carter, a retired teacher’s aide for the Lee County School System, decided to participate in the Walkathon herself the following year and then year after year since. Carter intends to be at the 2023 event too. Among her sponsors are her church, Flatwoods United Methodist Church, and members of her quilting circle. She plans to join other Walkathon supporters on May 7 at. 2 p.m. on the Greenbelt Trail in Big Stone Gap, complete her walk and turn in the money she has raised to go toward MEOC’s $200,000 event goal.

“I know how much good the Emergency Fuel Fund does, and I just want to do what I can to help. I really enjoy the Walkathon,” noted Carter.

Without Carter and countless others like her over the decades, the Emergency Fuel Fund for the Elderly would not exist. MEOC, the local area agency on aging, has operated the fuel fund since 1975 when it was created with $500 in community donations.

The program helps low-income adults at least age 60 in MEOC’s service area who are in danger of being without heat in winter — people worried their power is about to be turned off and those whose coal or wood pile is fearfully low or whose oil tanks are nearly empty. The fund assists about 1,000 people each winter with electric bills or purchases of wood, coal, propane or heating oil.

Remarkably, the agency’s ability to help that many people for that many years is only because of the generosity and kindness of people in our communities. The Emergency Fuel Fund has always been dependent on donations. The program receives no state or federal money. And no administrative costs are paid from it.

Sixty-three-year-old Michael Jessee is among those who received assistance from the Emergency Fuel Fund this past winter. A Coeburn native, Jesse is a former coal miner and security guard who ran a local grocery store before multiple health problems no longer allowed him to work. His monthly medication costs are a significant portion of his budget. When the weather turned cold, Jessee learned it would cost $1,700 to fill his propane tanks, his only heat source. That was a considerable expense for his already tight budget.

Jessee knew about the Emergency Fuel Fund for the Elderly because he had donated to it multiple times. “I didn’t realize at the time that I would need assistance one day, too,” he noted.

Jessee is one of about 1,025 people who received emergency heating assistance through MEOC this past winter at the record expense of a little more than $262,660. That record amount is why the Walkathon goal increased to $200,000, up by $35,000 from last year.

The need to raise more money follows significant cost increases in heating fuels, with coal and heating oil prices nearly doubling since last year, explained MEOC Emergency Services Director Marsha Craiger.

“The community’s support for this year’s Walkathon is more critical than ever,” said Craiger. “The need for emergency heating assistance among our older adults has not decreased. In fact, with inflation and the rising cost of living, many are struggling more than ever. We raised the Walkathon goal in the hope that we can continue serving at least the same number of people next year,” she added.

Craiger said some corporate donations for the Walkathon have started arriving. “We are always so thankful for the businesses who support the Emergency Fuel Fund. We couldn’t meet our goal without them,” she said. However, there’s a long way to go to reach $200.000.

Craiger said when she considers the number of people whom the fuel fund has helped, those who have donated over the years and the program’s longevity, “I am thankful to be even a small part of it.”

“I think of the thousands of people whose lives have been made directly better by the fuel fund. I think of all kinds of people, churches and businesses who generously give. Some of our regular donors can’t really afford to give, but they still do, even if it makes their life harder. I see people taking care of people, human to human, with no judgment. I see the Emergency Fuel Fund as a light in the dark and a glimmer of hope for those who have none,” said Craiger.


The 47th MEOC Walkathon is set for Sunday, May 7, at 2 p.m. at Big Stone Gap’s Bullitt Park. Registration will start at 1 p.m. Walkers will complete a route that follows the Greenbelt Trail. A picnic for all participants will follow.

The rain date for the event is May 21.

Participating in the Walkathon is easy.

  • First, get your forms. Contact Marsha Craiger at (276) 523-4202 or mcraiger@meoc.org.
  • 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 7 for the event.

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

  • Visit www.meoc.org and click “Donate.”
  • Text DONATE to (276) 242-3525.
  • Mail a check to MEOC, P.O. Box 888, Big Stone Gap, VA 24219.

Everyone can also help by telling family, friends, and neighbors about this event. Please help spread the word!