AOI kicked off its focused service to Ohio, Marshall and Wetzel Counties with a trip to Hundred on Monday, August 1. Staff and volunteers unloaded a truck full of clothing, furniture, household items, baby items, personal care items and school supplies in the parking lot at the Hundred Public Pool and more than 70 people came to claim items they needed to help stretch their household budgets.
Founded in 2001 to respond to disaster and poverty in economically depressed areas of lower West Virginia, the organization has evolved with the declining local economy. While founders Rose Hart and Diane Reineke began their work as a ministry in a home garage, the operation moved to the former Giant Eagle building in 2004 and became a formal, incorporated nonprofit corporation. Throughout the next decades, AOI continued to gather donations from all over the US, pack the truck the agency had by then procured, and hit the road to make stops along a route they had come to know as the neediest areas of further reaches of West Virginia.
Much has changed in West Virginia since then, and indeed, while the Northern Panhandle was once considered the more prosperous area of the state, COVID-19 laid bare an already declining statewide economic decline that has coincided with the illicit drug epidemic. Under new leadership with the appointment of Executive Director Wendy Tronka (after founder Rose Hart’s retirement), the Board of Directors of AOI has restructured its mission and strategy to ensure that Ohio, Marshall and Wetzel County residents receive the benefits of the donations AOI receives.
“Our new mission, ‘We exist to ease the burden of poverty for people in need in Wetzel, Ohio and Marshall Counties,’ is very clear to us and we hope it becomes very clear, very quickly to the residents we hope to serve help as well as those who want to join us,” Tronka said. “It’s also important to us that our donors know that their gifts are being given to their neighbors in need. There is more need in our own back yard than many of us are aware and AOI is here to bring awareness and relief to that need.”
Tronka especially thanked St. Mark Lutheran Church in Elm Grove for the school supplies that were distributed on this trip.
Wetzel County Family Resource Center Coordinator Tasha Simpson was overwhelmed by the effects of this first delivery. “AOI blessed our small town on Monday, helping so many children and families,” Simpson said. “Our town is very rural and almost an hour from any large town. Finding resources to help families in our area has always been a challenge. When I found out what all AOI had to offer I was thrilled to get working with them, setting up a time and place for a delivery. With the great success on Monday, I am hoping to continue to do these deliveries to give families and children solid resource that can help them better their lives.”