Jeanie Mitchell is quick to point out she owes the impetus for her volunteer work to God — and Forks of Elkhorn Baptist Church.
“I couldn’t do it without God or the church,” Mitchell explained.
She and her husband, Jerry, started attending “The Forks,” as members call it, some 15 or so years ago. They wanted to do mission work somewhere in Kentucky and found GAP, short for God’s Appalachian Partnership. Located in McDowell in eastern Kentucky, GAP serves underprivileged folks in Pike and surrounding counties.
“We go four times a year,” said Mitchell, who is retired from a career in state government but currently working at the Legislative Research Commission during the legislative session. “We do a lot of different things, and in late November or early December we help with a Christmas store.”
The store is open on weekdays so parents can get gifts for their children that will be surprises. “There’s no charge and all gifts are donated from all over the state. We help manage the Christmas store for a day.”
A group from Forks also goes to assist with an Easter egg hunt. “There are stations where the kids can play games like cornhole, shoot baskets, resurrection bingo — each emphasizes the Easter story in addition to making it fun.”
The event is funded not only by Kentucky churches but also by donations from people from many states like Georgia, Ohio and Florida. “People from all over the country help support it,” Mitchell said. Twenty or so go from the Forks for the Easter event and 10 for Christmas.
In her work with GAP, which Mitchell calls a wonderful “rewarding, humbling, overall feeling,” the most moving may have come several years ago when participants started washing the feet of the children.
“We wash the feet of 400-500 schoolchildren and give them new shoes and socks. I feel in doing that we’ve walked where Jesus walked. It just makes one thankful for what we have.”
Mitchell says there’s a lot of poverty in the area with many grandparents raising their grandchildren and without much means to do it.
“The job market is bad. There’s no coal (to mine). The GAP facility is housed in a building on an abandoned coal site,” she said. “We’re looking for a new place since we’re soon going to have leave where we are.”
In other volunteer work, Mitchell said she took several trips to the Deep South after Hurricane Katrina devastated so much property — along with many lives. She’s also been to Ethiopia when her son was a missionary there.
The Mitchells are from Michigan but have lived in Frankfort since 1976.