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Churches care for WV families

Support is still flowing into the Buckhannon area almost one month since the deaths of 12 people in a mine explosion.

BY HEATHER MOYER | BUCKHANNON, W. Va. | January 27, 2006

Support is still flowing into the Buckhannon area almost one month since the deaths of 12 people in a mine explosion.

Every day sees the arrival of another letter full of Wal-Mart gift cards or a note of encouragement, said the Rev. Mark Flynn, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Buckhannon.

"We've had things sent to us all the way from Massachusetts and California," said Flynn. Flynn spent days with the miners' families awaiting word of the fate of 13 miners trapped in the Sago Mine in early January. Since then, he's helped organize a memorial service, distributed the donations and stayed in touch with the miners' families.

The outpouring of support has been wonderful, he said. One Virginia elementary school sent Wal-Mart gift cards and money donated during a school fundraising event. Another church called in to offer prayer shawls to any family who wants one. "We're doing our best to get these items out to the families," Flynn said.

Distributing the donated gift cards and items is challenging because the miners' families live all over the area - with some living more than an hour away. Yet Flynn said he and other local pastors are doing their best to provide continuing support.

The emotional state for many is still one of pain, he noted, especially after watching the mine disaster in Logan, West Virginia, only two weeks after the Sago tragedy. "I think for some of the families, that kind of made them relive Sago," he explained.

And while support is still coming to the Sago families, now is the time when some are just getting back to work or are realizing that life must go on. "Another thing with the families is that their other supportive family members are now back at work - widows and mothers are now home alone for the first time since the tragedy," said Flynn.

"Some families said that early on, they got many cards and letters, but now that's slacked off. They feel a little forgotten. I think the kids are having a rough time now, too."

And so the pastors are working together to make sure families get what they need. Counseling is also being offered at a nearby community center, but the distance to Buckhannon for some families is too far. Flynn said the Buckhannon ministerial alliance is planning on bringing in more counselors to help and follow up with the families as well. To help with financial support, local churches are holding weeknight services at the high school where the entire offering will be given to the families.

Flynn said for those wanting to continue helping the Sago families, there are multiple ways to assist. "These folks sure need lots of prayer," he explained. Donations to the Sago Mine Assistance fund via the West Virginia Council of Churches (WVCC) are another way to help, he added.

The WVCC also has a fund set up for the families of the two miners lost in the Melville mine last weekend.

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