By Lisa Shrewsberry
Around here, missing something for ‘a month of Sundays’ is good-ol-boy-speak for a very long time to do without. Marie Vandall, a 92-year-old Beckley resident known affectionately as “Mawmaw,” had missed her beloved church services for ten months of Sundays, a broken leg rendering her wheelchair-and home-bound. No longer being able to join the congregation at Living Waters Baptist Church each week didn’t sit well with the otherwise lively nonagenarian.
“The doctor says they can’t do anything for it, so I doubt if I will ever walk again,” she said in an interview and matter-of-factly, without a trace of self-pity. “Staying in when the weather was bad didn’t bother me. But when the sun started shining, it did. I love to get out.”
Dinah Burleson, Marie’s family caregiver, affirms that it was a blow to a woman with a natural zest for life. “She’s a faithful church-goer.” In fact, Marie had fallen on Mother’s Day coming out of church when the serious break happened. Afterward, the wheelchair and a home without handicapped accessibility left her with no options but staying in the house for everything other than medical necessity. Even her doctor made house calls to keep her from having to come out. With no access ramp from her porch, ambulances had to transport her to and from the other doctors’ appointments.
“When you can’t get a wheelchair out, you miss a lot,” Dinah said, adding that another of Marie’s favorite activities was going out to eat, especially for hot wings. As simple as her regular to-do list may have been, Marie needed a way out of her confining situation.
Last Sunday, March 2, for the first time in nearly a year, Marie was able to get out and go to church — and to bring a few take-out wings back home with her. Recognizing a need and knowing Marie was on a fixed income, “Preacher” Mike Gunnoe and his wife, Kitty, on behalf of Living Waters Baptist Church, bought the materials and relied on the carpentry skills of fellow parishioner Keith Greenwood to build Marie a ramp. With funds from a newly developed ministry called “Help From Heaven,” started in honor of Mike’s belated mother, Sue Francisco, they completed the accommodations necessary for Marie’s wheelchair, enabling her to once again have the freedom to go places.
“He didn’t ask me, he told me they were going to build me one,” Marie said, remembering her pastor’s commitment to her plight. “Mike and Kitty would do anything for anybody. They came to my house when I couldn’t get out and for my birthday.”
“That’s what churches are for,” echoed Dinah. “They’re for helping people.”
“She was so excited knowing she could go last Sunday, I don’t think she slept all night long Saturday night.”
Had she been required to hire someone on her own, Marie would’ve watched a considerable slice of her limited disposable income disappear; the church resources were a true help from heaven.
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A hand up, not a hand out. That’s what the ministry that helped Marie is set to offer others in the greater Beckley area and surrounding communities, Kitty Gunnoe said. The mission of the ministry is founded upon a pattern of giving established by its honoree, Sue.
“Most people knew Mike’s mom from when she worked at Hill’s Department Store. She worked in the children’s clothing department.” All those years of matching new school shirts and pants and watching hard-working parents fill their long white lay-away boxes, some fuller than others, tugged at Sue’s heart. “She was always putting a coat back or a pair of shoes for regular people, ones she would buy with her own money when her payday came. She always had somebody else in mind,” Kitty recalled.
Sue Francisco of Beaver, passed away in February 2013. She was 78. So began the call to keep her habit of giving alive, and to those most deserving.
Several area businesses and individuals have donated to Help From Heaven over the past year, creating a fund totaling $10,000. As the fund grows, it will be divided among projects helping people who haven’t stopped trying, but find circumstances beyond their control standing in the way of basic needs.
“There are parents who are working, or maybe they lost their job, and who can’t come up with the money to buy their kids boots or a coat. We focus on projects, but if somebody has a critical need, we want to know about it. When we see someone who can’t pay a power bill because they just got laid off work, not because they’ve abused the resources they’ve been given, we will try to help them,” Kitty said.
Help from Heaven’s first project was Thanksgiving 2013. A group from Living Waters worked with Bradley Elementary School to identify children at risk of not having enough food in the home over the long holiday break. Many children depend on the breakfasts and lunches provided at the school for their daily nutrition, Kitty indicated. “We helped 24 children with boxes of food for Thanksgiving and 25 for Christmas.”
For businesses or individuals looking for a practical way to connect to the hurting in the community, Help From Heaven accepts donations or donations of skilled labor or materials when required for specific projects. Living Waters Baptist Church also regularly caters lunches to businesses and for gatherings to raise money to support the continuing ministry.
Just like Mawmaw Marie, there are others waiting to have a need met and for people willing to give as selflessly as Sue Francisco did. “You should have seen her,” remembered Kitty of Marie. “She was tickled to death to be out and back in church.”
For more information on Help From Heaven, or to inquire about their fundraising/catering menu, contact Kitty Gunnoe at 304-877-5829 or Donna Greenwood at 304-894-6480.
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