CHARLESTON — For the fifth consecutive year, Kanawha County topped the state in the number of people leaving a county, according to 2017 population estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
With 2,804 people leaving Kanawha in 2017, the county holds the 10th-highest population decrease by individuals of all counties in the nation. In 2016, it ranked 19th.
“Sometimes, these numbers don’t mean a lot. When people leave here, they could be leaving 8 miles down the road to a new [housing] development or something similar,” said Kent Carper, Kanawha County Commission president. “It’s not good, we don’t like to see our people leave, but with some new activities we have going — some new construction jobs, and other things — we expect to see that turn around in 2018.”
Despite the high number of individuals leaving, they only made up 1.5 percent of Kanawha’s total population, which sits at an estimated 183,293 people and is the largest in the state, according to the Census data. Since Kanawha is home to more people than any other county in West Virginia, Carper said, it’s common sense that there are more people who could leave.
The last time Kanawha saw an increase in population was 2012, when an estimated 51 individuals moved to the county.
That also was the last time West Virginia as a whole saw an increase in population.
Farther south, McDowell County held the highest percentage of population decrease, with 3.5 percent — 683 individuals — leaving the county. This percentage decrease was the fourth-highest in the nation, according to the Census, and leaves the county with a total population of 18,456 people. In 2016, the county ranked 13th highest in percentage of population loss.
McDowell has been consistently losing residents for more than six years, and while the news is disappointing, McDowell County Commissioner Cecil Patterson said he isn’t surprised.
“We’re a one-industry economy — and that’s the coal industry,” Patterson said. “When it started to fall, and when it still falls, our people, they move. They cross the border to North Carolina or Virginia or somewhere they can make more money and find work.”
The most eastern counties in the Eastern Panhandle held the top three highest percentages of population growth in the Mountain State. Berkeley saw a 1.5 percent increase, Jefferson, 0.9 percent, and Morgan, 0.6 percent.
This was the first year in the past six that Monongalia County had less than 500 people move within its limits. In 2012, roughly 1,700 moved to that county. Last year, the population increase dipped below 1,000 for the first time, with 631 people moving in. This year, only 259 individuals moved to Monongalia.
West Virginia’s population as a whole is on a steady decline, according to past Census numbers. If the trend continues, the Mountain State could lose one of its three congressional seats by 2022.
In 2017, a total of 45 counties had a population decline. Nine saw population increases, and one — Pleasants County — stayed exactly the same.
In June 2016, southern portions of West Virginia were devastated by what experts called, “The Thousand Year Flood”. As the flood waters began to recede, assistance came from far and near to begin the cleanup process, and to deliver food, water, and necessary living supplies. Faith based organizations and volunteers continue to assist with rebuilding efforts in these communities nearly two years after floods ravaged the region. One of those communities still receiving assistance, is the small incorporated Town of Clendenin in northern Kanawha County, home to West Virginia’s Capitol, located in nearby Charleston.
Clendenin Town Hall
The Town of Clendenin has a Mayor, Town Council, decorated Fire Department, Police Department, and even a newly created Planning Commission, all of which have been diligently working together, along with state and federal government organizations, to rebuild the town. Clendenin is only 20 miles north of Charleston, just off of Interstate 79. It sits along the Elk River, which is enjoyed by kayakers as well as musky and bass fisherman. Current plans and discussions, among the Clendenin Planning Commission revolve around the development of a quaint bedroom community to Charleston, focused on recreational tourism and the creation of community gardens on now-vacant properties. Volunteers in the community are working non-stop on these efforts. The Clendenin Homecoming Festival is slated to occur June 22-24, 2018, and plans are in place to make it an annual event where the town hopes to attract thousands of visitors and generate additional revenue for local small businesses that are gradually re-opening.
Smith’s Foodfair, sole grocery store within town limits, has not reopened after the 2016 Flood.
Even with the many positive initiatives and accomplishments, which are discussed daily among this close-knit community, most outside of the area are completely unaware of an underlying issue that plagues Clendenin and other communities affected by the 2016 Floods.
Many of the residents in and around Clendenin, West Virginia are hungry!
They simply do not have enough food each month to feed their families. Many children in the community only receive a hot meal while they are at school, and wouldn’t have food over the weekend if it were not for non-profit organizations like Elk River Backpack Blessings. In addition, there are numerous families in the community who do not have electricity, running water, or basic living supplies. Others are homeless. Clendenin needs help!
I have only been visiting Clendenin for about six months, however it is abundantly clear to me from my numerous conversations with residents who have called Clendenin and/or the Elk River Valley “home” for all or most of their lives, that this region was economically depressed and struggling prior to the 2016 Flood. Local employment opportunities were limited and the general consensus among those in the community is that the flood simply escalated the deprivation that had been facing them for several years. It destroyed nearly every small business in the Town of Clendenin, including the largest employer; a local grocery store, which provided approximately 50 jobs. The store has still not been re-established, and as of this writing, there are no immediate plans to do so.
Clendenin United Methodist Church
I recently wrote an article about the emergency food pantry, which is located at the Clendenin United Methodist Church, and was curious to learn about other organizations or individuals that were helping those with ongoing needs. My curiosity, along with the assistance of some locals, led me to Crystal Hawkins. Crystal works as the Care Coordinator for the Clendenin Health Center, and is in charge of the Center’s Community Outreach Program. The Clendenin Health Center, also referred to locally as “The Clinic” or “The Health Center”, is located in the original section of the old Clendenin Middle School building at 107 Koontz Avenue in Clendenin. It is owned by Cabin Creek Health Systems. In addition to providing medical services to patients in the Elk River Valley communities, this facility has an outreach program that helps those in need throughout their service area, which includes Kanawha, Clay, Roane, and Jackson Counties.
I sat down with Crystal in her office and was quite impressed to learn that Cabin Creek requires their administrative staff to participate in two community outreach projects, and two community care projects, per year. Each staff member is able to select the type of projects they want to be involved in. As part of Crystal’s community outreach requirements with Cabin Creek Health Systems, she chose to work with those in the community that were in dire need of basic living essentials.
Crystal’s position places her in front of each patient, where she is a firsthand witness, to the continuous and growing needs within the community. She provides items and services of all kinds; from common everyday needs including food, to figuring out how to help individuals pay their utility bills. She also calls patients on a daily basis to make sure they are taking their medicine, and that they have food, water, and other necessary items. It was abundantly clear to me, that she and the others at The Health Center, are on a mission to help in any way they can and seem excited about the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of those within the community. Crystal is a resident of neighboring Roane County, West Virginia and also volunteers with the Roane County Schools, who accept donations of new or lightly worn clothes, shoes, personal hygiene items, as well as food. These items are then distributed to the students there in need, during school hours, through their individual school pantries.
Clendenin Health Center
Crystal, her colleagues and staff at The Health Center, have established a secured space at the facility to store donated items. They first assess individual and/or family needs, then distribute supplies out of this space accordingly. She gave me a tour of the space and what I saw spoke volumes to me regarding their selfless efforts. It was quite obvious that the space they had converted to assist these individuals and/or families within the community, had formerly been their employee lounge.
Crystal explained that volunteers are in place to prepare and serve hot meals, but they are in need of a facility with a commercial kitchen, a food truck, or a way to deliver meals to those who cannot travel. I could see the concern on her face as she explained the severity of hunger in the community. “There are numerous people in the community that do not have hot food or a way to even prepare hot food”. She went on to explain that meals used to be provided at the Recreation Center in Clendenin, but that facility can no longer be used due to flood damage to the kitchen there. At the time of this interview, The Health Center was ready to prepare and feed the hungry, but have no location with a commercial kitchen and the necessary space to do so.
The sheer compassion that Crystal displayed when speaking about the local hunger issue gave me chills, and in order to better understand the total scope of need within the community, I wanted to understand the severity of all non-hunger related needs as well. She explained that while everyone’s priorities are different, they could all be categorized as “necessary living essentials”. She reiterated that they do not provide items that are unnecessary or support personal habits. When the immediate needs of a patient are met, they try to identify long term solutions for patients. Resources have been limited however. According to Crystal, many in the community are left without things like food and clean running water. She echoed the opinion of others I have been speaking with, saying there has “always been a need in the community but it has gotten worse since the flood.” She went on to explain that numerous people do not have access to transportation and are not well enough physically to ride the public bus line that services Clendenin.
The Clendenin Health Center works closely with the Clendenin Ministerial Association to provide hot showers for those without running water and volunteers help with laundry needs. In regards to these specific issues, Crystal stated with much empathy, “Sadly enough, Clendenin didn’t bounce back as quickly as people thought it would after the flood”. She went on to say that they did not have a firm, total number of people with extreme needs in the community, on an ongoing basis, because there are still many individuals and families who are not patients at the clinic, but in dire need of assistance.
It took many businesses in the Town of Clendenin a year before they were able to re-open their doors, and several are still closed. As mentioned previously, Clendenin still does not have a grocery store, and both of their schools were relocated after the flood, to portable trailers at neighboring schools in Elkview, West Virginia. According to FEMA and other government agencies at a recent public meeting, it could be years years before construction is complete on Clendenin Elementary, and the same for Herbert Hoover High School, which is at risk of not even returning to the Clendenin area.
Maywood Avenue, Clendenin, West Virginia
I’ve known since the moment I stepped foot in Clendenin, West Virginia, that the people here genuinely care about one another, and that was reaffirmed when I learned that until recently, Crystal and other staff members at The Health Center were using their own personal money to purchase food and items that patients were in desperate need of. I believe the fact that the most requested item that Crystal receives, after food, is adult briefs for incontinence. This reinforces the fact that the need is real, and that the need is dire.
From my conversations with those in the community, the perception is that several of those with ongoing needs are employed, but not earning enough to meet their basic needs due to low wages and/or lack of workable hours from their employer(s). Others are simply unable to locate employment at all. Many seniors and disabled residents, who are physically unable to work but may be receiving benefits, are still struggling each month just to make ends meet, often going without food.
The people of Clendenin, West Virginia are resilient. They are compassionate, kind, and care deeply about one another. They have a mindset that is admirable and respectable. They are good people, but I can honestly say the same thing about West Virginians as a whole. Unfortunately, West Virginia ranks as the worst state in the United States for business, ranking 50th for Economy and 49th for Workforce, according to a 2017 CNBC Report . A recent Spotlight on Poverty & Opportunity Study found that 45% of West Virginian’s living in poverty are single-parent families with children. With businesses and educated young people leaving the state for better opportunities, how will we recover, and when will hunger not be the primary concern facing the state of West Virginia?
There are several ways you can get involved. Even a small donation can make a monumental difference.
Donated food (non-perishables) and supplies to help the Town of Clendenin, West Virginia and surrounding communities, can be dropped off or shipped to:
Clendenin Health Center
c/o Food Pantry
107 Koontz Avenue
Clendenin, WV 25045
Phone calls can be directed to Crystal Hawkins at (304) 548-7272 and emails can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Requested items for the Clendenin Health Center include the following:
Non-perishable food items like canned and boxed food, granola bars, protein bars, pudding, peanut butter, canned fruit, crackers, canned soup, bottled water, etc.
Personal hygiene items including deodorant, soap, shampoo, razors, feminine products, baby wipes, baby diapers, toothbrushes, toothpaste, adult briefs, etc.
Household items & clothing including blankets, warm hats, scarves, gloves, coats, etc.
A location to prepare and distribute hot meals to the hungry, which would require a commercial kitchen. Once in place they will need food to prepare for them as well as supplies like paper plates, cups, and utensils.
The emergency food pantry, located at the Clendenin United Methodist Church, is operated by the Clendenin Ministerial Association. Donations can be dropped off there on Tuesdays 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. at the Clendenin United Methodist Church, 121 Koontz Avenue, Clendenin, West Virginia 25045.
Roane County School Pantry: Contact: Shawnee Jarrell – email@example.com. Items requested include socks, underwear, toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, soap, deodorant, pencils, paper backpacks, sweatpants, sweatshirts, feminine hygiene products, non-perishable food.
Elk River Blessings: Contact Debi O’Dell (304) 767-0699. View complete list of needs HERE
The emergency food pantry, located at the Clendenin United Methodist Church, provides a valuable service to the local residents. The pantry is operated by the Clendenin Ministerial Association, which includes the United Methodist Church, Church of the Nazarene, Clendenin Advent Christian Church, Liberty Christian Ministries, Clendenin First Baptist Church, and Reamer Gospel Tabernacle.
According to Clendenin United Methodist Church Minister and food pantry coordinator, Scott Ferguson, the pantry has been helping 8-10 families per week, which translates to 40-50 people per week in the 25045 area. Those who need emergency food assistance can contact the Clendenin United Methodist Church. At this time emergency assistance is available to qualifying families every two months.
Donations to the food pantry are always needed and can be delivered to the Clendenin United Methodist Church on Tuesdays 5PM to 6PM. Items accepted include: boxed food, pancake mix, jiffy mix, dry beans, canned food, canned fruit, canned vegetables, pasta, mac & cheese, sugar, flour, oil, ramen noodles, cereal, granola bars, bottled water, and other non-perishable items.
The Clendenin Fairs and Festivals Committee held a meeting on Saturday, February 17, 2018 at 3PM at Momma Payne’s restaurant on Main Street to discuss the first annual Clendenin Homecoming Festival, which will take place June 22-24, 2018 in Clendenin, West Virginia, and is scheduled to reoccur the last weekend in June every year.
The discussions focused around the coordination of events during the festival, which included the parade, beauty pageant, fireworks, carnival, car show, activities, and entertainment, as well as food and craft vendors, and fundraisers.
According to Committee members, they are anticipating 1,000-1,500+ people during the three day event and more than 100 volunteers are needed to assist with everything from general labor, concession stands, parking, fundraisers, etc. Anyone interested in helping should send a message on the Clendenin Homecoming Festival’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/clendeninhomecoming/, where you can also view additional information about the festival. Volunteers do not have to live in Clendenin town limits and do not need to be on the Clendenin Fairs and Festivals Committee to participate. Everyone is welcome.
Two local Clendenin, West Virginia restaurants are now hiring. Momma Paynes and Julio’s Mexican Restaurant, located on Main Street, are both looking for experienced morning waitresses. Stop by either location and pick up an application.
On Tuesday, January 23, 2018 at 6:30 PM, the Clendenin Planning Commission held their second meeting at the Recreation Building located beside Town Hall. Representatives from WVU Law facilitated the nearly two hour public meeting, which according to head facilitator, Jesse Richardson, was “the most active community [he has] worked in so far.” That being said, it was echoed throughout the meeting that more people needed to be involved and attend the public meetings.
The bulk of the meeting included a comprehensive SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis and review of Clendenin’s assets and challenges. You can view all of the public documents, including the SWOT analysis, that were distributed at this meeting on the Planning Commission page of our website HERE. The SWOT analysis can be viewed HERE.
Some of the strengths that had been previously identified included the Clendenin Health Center, which has seen up to 100 people in a day, according to Councilman David Knight, and brings people from out of town to the area; the proximity of Clendenin to Charleston; strong emergency services; the town being level, which makes it possible to potentially develop the town into a golf cart community; and the bus service.
Several weaknesses that were previously identified were reported by commission members and the public as being addressed, some of which included the following:
Lack of a local library: According to Planning Commission Member and 25045 A New Clendenin Director, Kay Summers, the local library will be opening in the basement of the Clendenin Health Center (former Clendenin Middle School). As the result of a grant, repairs to the lower floor will begin soon.
Lack of appealing “downtown”: Town council applied for a grant, which, if granted, will include a complete remodel of both sides of Main Street, including sidewalks, planters, and lighting, according to Mayor Shana Clendenin.
Lack of local news: Councilman and Planning Commission Member, David Knight reported that Elk River Living, a monthly color magazine, would be launching April 1. In addition, Mark Burdette from The Clendenin Leader announced that an online news publication would be launching within a week to provide Clendenin and the Elk River Valley communities with local news and resources.
The public attendees and commission members worked together to identify other issues that could be classified as weaknesses, including the lack of recycling, lack of venues to draw people in from outside of the area, lack of daycare, and erosion.
Some of the opportunities that were discussed included completing The Roxy, which could host local theatre, movies, talent shows, entertainment, meetings, etc. Planning Commission member, Susan Jack, explained how the old Elk Refinery, located in Falling Rock, could be utilized for haunted tours, movie sets, trail heads, or other activities that could attract tourists to the area. Mayor Clendenin explained how abandoned railroads throughout the area could be converted, as part of the national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy program, which would be a tourist attraction and provide activities for local residents as well.
The threats assessment created the most energized and heated discussions of the evening. Longtime business owners Jim Smith and son George Smith, were in attendance and addressed questions pertaining to the re-opening of Smith’s Foodfair, which had been the largest grocery store in Clendenin for decades. Smith’s Foodfair was destroyed during the 2016 Flood and has not reopened. According to the Smith’s, they would employ approximately 50 people and “it would take a couple million dollars to re-open the grocery store.” George Smith firmly stated, “If you move the schools ten miles down the road, there goes the population, and we can’t justify re-opening the store. We will re-open that store if we can save the schools!”
The location of the new Clendenin Elementary and Herbert Hoover High School was a hot topic of conversation. Councilman David Knight compared the current school location issue to Richwood’s, explaining that because Herbert Hoover was outside of the Clendenin municipality that it would be difficult for Hoover to be re-located in the same proximity of Hoover’s original location.” What Richwood has over us, they’re a municipality and their schools were in their municipality”. Planning Commission member, Susan Jack, questioned the accuracy of that statement, and to date, The Clendenin Leader has not been able to find any information to corroborate Knight’s statement. Mayor Shana Clendenin requested that all conversations pertaining to the schools locations be tabled until the Kanawha County Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, February 7, 2018 at 6:30PM at the Clendenin Volunteer Fire Department. This is a public meeting and all citizens in Clendenin and surrounding communities were encouraged to attend this very important meeting. The location of the new schools has not yet been determined and public input is critical to the decision making process. You can listen to excerpts from the meeting that pertain to the schools below.
The meeting concluded with a review and open discussion of Clendenin’s assets and challenges. Some of the assets discussed included The Roxy, Clendenin Heath Center, emergency services, ministerial association, scenery, historic homes, restaurants, the river, kayaking and fishing opportunities, the potential of Rails-to-Trails development, and the Morris Creek property. Clendenin’s challenges included the location of local schools, poor signage, as well as vacant and dilapidated buildings, which the public was asked to help identify. The public was also encouraged to help identify key stakeholders who could provide valuable insight about specific needs within the community.
In addition, numerous attendees voiced their concerns about a sudden increase in property taxes. Landlord, J.D. Gandee, indicated he had rental property that was flooded and property taxes were now 300% higher than the previous assessment. Mayor Clendenin encouraged those affected to contact the Kanawha County Assessor’s Office and offered to reach out to the Assessor to determine the “cause and effect” and report on it at the next Town Council meeting.
The next Planning Commission meeting was scheduled for Thursday, February 15, 2018 at 6:30 PM at the Clendenin Recreation Building. This is a public meeting and everyone is encouraged to attend and participate.
Anyone who grew up on the Elk River will tell you that they have fond memories of that time and of the many unique people who made up our community. Some of our memories are geared toward specific people who may have left a lasting impact on our lives, while others are of places or events, or simply of our way of life here in the past. Some of our memories are funny, while others are sad. We intend to share these memories and the stories of them here at Memory Lane. We welcome and encourage everyone to submit their own unique story HERE for possible inclusion in this section.
Use the MENU to explore articles in various sections or click the following highlighted links to be taken to specific sections: Local History, Did You Know, Notable People, Meet Your Neighbor, Living Legends. We will be adding more content on a regular basis, so keep checking back with us. Let us know if you need assistance learning how to navigate our website or if you are interested in helping us research and compile information about our communities. Contact us HERE to let us know about a MEMORY LANE story that you think we should feature.
The Clendenin and Elk River Communities have produced tremendous talent over the years in a variety of arenas; outstanding athletes, educators, humanitarians, business leaders, etc. Some have accomplished an outstanding achievement of sorts, while others have compiled a body of work over the years, all of which we believe to be legendary. Living Legends are those individuals, still among us, who have accomplished significant things during their lifetime, both past and present. They are the individuals who have left their mark and a lasting legacy. We intend to tell their stories here, and document their accomplishments and contributions to our rich history.
Use the MENU to explore articles in various sections or click the following highlighted links to be taken to specific sections: Local History, Did You Know, Notable People, Meet Your Neighbor, Memory Lane. We will be adding more content on a regular basis, so keep checking back with us. Let us know if you need assistance learning how to navigate our website or if you are interested in helping us research and compile information about our communities. Contact us HERE to let us know about a LIVING LEGEND you think we should feature.