A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kentucky by Heart: Withlovefromharlan shifts focus close to home to help victims of Blackjewel failure

By Steve Flairty
KyForward Columnist

For the people of Harlan County, in the southeastern region of Kentucky, tough economic challenges became tougher recently when the Blackjewel Mining Company filed bankruptcy and left hundreds of miners, many from their county, hung out to dry financially. Most insulting was the fact that workers received paychecks that bounced, leaving many families unable to pay their most pressing financial commitments.

In the midst of such travail, the goodness of a local Harlan County organization of compassion has stepped in to help, much like it has provided a hand to other communities across America in the past.

Withlovefromharlan, led by founder Leslie Bledsoe, of Harlan, has raised over $40,000 for the miners and their families, using it to buy such things as food vouchers and back-to-school items, including shoes and backpacks. The volunteer organization’s work has also created interest for those wanting to help from outside Harlan, too.

“We were able to get a 20-feet U-Haul of food donated from Catholic Charities of Lexington,” said Leslie, “and we had a lot of volunteers from here help unload the truck and put food boxes together. Two weeks before that, we had a $4,000 donation of diapers from a non-profit in Nashville called Nashville Diaper Connection. Last week, we had a gentleman come from Irvine {KY} to buy the miners’ kids school shoes.” The Irvine man’s generosity was enormous, as he provided $40 each for 250 kids to buy shoes, a total of $10,000.

Locally, a Harlan pediatrician donated 20 cases of baby formula. There is a strong desire in the community to come together; the best is coming out of citizens there. Many, including Leslie, have joined in supporting miners and their family members who are protesting what they feel are Blackjewel’s unfair actions. The protest is taking place on the CSX railroad tracks at Sand Hill bottom, in Harlan County, where the group is blocking a company coal train. They believe that coal money paid to Blackjewel previously had not been used on behalf of them, the employees.

“I go up there every night (to check on them),” said Leslie, “and the community brings them food and water.” The support has encouraged the miners on these hot August days, when a cruel interlude has visited their lives.

Withlovefromharlan was established in 2017 when Leslie led in getting together supplies to fill a U-Haul truck to help Hurricane Harvey victims in Texas, and later that year they helped Hurricane Irma victims in Florida.

With the positive gesture showed to the people in Texas, said Leslie, “There was such overwhelming love shown by the community, we just thought “Why not keep it going?’ We just started with little things…good deeds here and there, acts of kindness. It’s kind of grown.”

The work withlovefromharlan has done recently with its own citizens has made a difference, but much more is needed. For those who would like to help, visit www.withlovefromharlan.net or its Facebook page. Phone contact is 606-273-5456.

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Allow me to invite you to one of two Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #5 book events happening real soon. You’ll have an opportunity to meet some inspiring individuals that have been included in the book series, which saw its first volume published in 2008.

At the Lexington Joseph Beth Booksellerslocation, an event will transpire on Sunday, August 18, at 2 p.m. One week later, on August 25, at 2 p.m., an event will happen at the Crestview Hills Joseph Beth location.

I would love to meet some of my faithful readers on either of those days. I believe being there will bring about a real “Kentucky by Heart” experience!

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Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of seven books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and six in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s latest, “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #5,” was recently released. Steve serves as a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly KyForward and NKyTribune columnist and a member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

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