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High Country Citizens Hosts Successful Winter Coat Drive for Avery County Residents on Sunday

Donations that were brought to the Banner Elk Winery on Sunday for the Winter Coat Drive.

By Coble Gable

As 2020’s winter weather begins to make its stride here in the High Country, residents of Avery County have collectively taken to the task of helping out those in need by hosting a Winter Coat Drive on January 12th.

Avery County native Elizabeth Hempfling along with the High Country Charitable Foundation and Feeding Avery Families, are among those responsible for spearheading this idea, which has resulted in huge donation amounts from businesses and individuals alike. “Not only did we have individual donations from people who had purchased new items just to drop them off, but for example, we had the Leonard family from Ski Country Sports donate a whole bunch of brand new gloves from the shop, Footsloggers and the Miller family donated new items including jackets as well,” Hempfling commented.

“Then we had a surprise visitor, Marty Herndon, who sits on the board with the High Country Charitable Foundation who lives with his family in Hickory, and his son, Seth, showed up out of nowhere with a car load of about twenty-five coats. We’d even have random people popping into the winery to see what was going n, and lots of them gave a dollar donation or made physical donations of money which can go back into purchasing new items which is really awesome.” Hempfling discussed that so far, donations have amounted to “multiple car-loads” of clothes, which she takes from the winery to Feeding Avery Families where the clothes will be distributed. “And I would also mention that this is all just the beginning, the need is so great and this only hits a small percentage of all we need to do. Essentially it was just really beautiful to see the community come together.”

Hempfling is filled with stories of charity from a variety of donors, and wanted to thank the Banner Elk Winery and their owners, Richard Wolfe, Angelo Accetturo, and Pete and Michelle Gerukos, as well as staff such as Terri Mcnay and others for their hosting. “Having the winery and the owners with their support, they volunteered to let us have the space and their staff volunteered their time to help,” which helped to make the coat drive to happen in the first place. The drive also featured food, drinks, and music from Sam Fanthorpe, a local musician placed in Boone.

The process following the drive and making sure these items reach those who are most in need is handled by Feeding Avery Families. “And they know the people that come in and out of there,” Hempfling continued.

Seth Herndon with his friend Laney delivering a car load of coats to Elizabeth Hempfling on Sunday.

“They know them by name, so they know if like, little Jack needs a jacket since he came in last time in a t-shirt, so that’s the beauty of it too. Dick Larson and all the other folks are working hard on that, and are in charge once I pass it on to them to really give them to those in need. And having brand new items too, there’s nothing more inspiring or fulfilling than kids having a brand new coat or outfit to show off to their friends, and I think its empowering and uplifting to people not only on the level to keep them warm, but also inspire them and for them to know we’re here and we care or you, and everybody can do this together…This was a launch to really show the efforts of what my goals are, along with the High Country Charitable their mission as it has been since day one with Mr. Ward, to help others in need not only the animals of the community but the people, and to keep that alive, to keep people educated, and to keep that going in a sense where not only the counties on this side, but over into Avery where it’s a whole other territory. Because again, we all know we only have one hospitality house for seven counties, so its spread pretty thin for what everybody can do. But I think at the end of the day, just every bit helps.”

Hempfling also mentions the value of having warm winter clothes for living in regions like the High Country because, “There are homes that don’t have heat, it’s not just for walking around outside. We’re going into some of the coldest months of the year, so this is a really key time to put this into perspective and really look at the needs in our community and around us.”

Statistics provided by Dick Larson of Feeding Avery Families shows Avery County has approximately 18,000 residents with about 15% of the populous suffering from food insecurity. “That means that they make less than 180% of the poverty level ($24,288 a year for an individual),” said Larson. “We therefore have 2,700 people, of whom at least a quarter are children, who don’t have enough money to buy food.  For the past to months Feeding Avery Families has provided food to 1,300 individuals each month, roughly half of those who qualify.  People, who suffer from food insecurity, often suffer from transportation insecurity, housing insecurity and toxic stress as well.  With this myriad of challenges many of them have no resources with which to purchase proper clothing for our winter environment.  We frequently see people coming in for our winter food distributions wearing just shirts or light jackets.”

Hempfling added, “In my opinion every day in this world should be a holiday. We should treat those around us with that same mindset. That way every day is Thanksgiving and every evening is New Year’s Eve.”

Coats and clothing can still be dropped off at Elizabeth Hempfling’s business office at 703 West King St. and she also can contact directly for more information or donations> Her email is: elizabethsevents@gmail.com or by phone: 828-773-8431

To find out more about Feeding Avery Families and what you can do to help those in need during this winter season, visit http://www.feedingaveryfamilies.org/

or get in touch at: FeedingAveryFamilies@gmail.com or call 828-783-8506

Photos from Sunday’s event by Cynthia Viola

Terri Mcnay of Banner Elk Winery


Sam Fanthorpe provided entertainment.