A dirt floor. No running water, except for what was leaking from the gutters. Christian Appalachian Project’s (CAP) first warehouse in Tennessee was inadequate, and CAP was soon looking for a sturdier warehouse that could be used to expand the services of Operation Sharing further into the mountains.
The vision began to take shape in 2008, when Dwayne King, the first chair of the board for Operation Sharing Tennessee (OST), and a group of friends approached the owner of wholesale grocery distributor H.T. Hackney in ONEIDA, Tenn. The distributer was closing its warehouse and King, inquired to see if the owner would be willing to work out a plan to make the space affordable for OST.
“It was a Godsend,” said King, who helped close the deal to move into the Hackney warehouse. “He believed in our vision and leased the building to us for $1 a year. Overnight, we went from not having an adequate facility to having a wonderful warehouse to help in meeting the needs in Appalachia. We wouldn’t be here without CAP’s desire to expand programs into Tennessee. The test was whether we could start something that glorified God. Rev. Beiting’s legacy was that he build something that has lasted.”
Now, the satellite warehouse serves 425 partner agencies from Knoxville and Gatlinburg, to McCreary County, Ky. OST receives 100 loads per year from Operation Sharing in Corbin, Ky. And distributes $10 million in donated goods to children and families in need every year.
Kathy West, the first secretary of the OST board, is no executive director of Appalachian Life Quality (ALQI) which partners with the community to provide programs for underserved children in Scott County, Tenn.
“Being there from our very humble, but optimistic, beginning and seeing where OST is today makes me very proud,” West said. “There were times when we struggled, but there was a determination in all of us that we would not let it fail.”
Dawn Ellis has a long history with both organizations. Ellis started as a volunteer in the warehouse, but was later hired by CAP. In 2012, when OST became independent of CAP with its own 501(c)(3) status, Ellis became an OST employee. She was recently promoted to manager of OST.
“You might not be able to imagine that there are people that don’t have basic needs, such as a bed or food, but for some, those things are almost considered a luxury,” Ellis said. “When you don’t have anything everything goes a long way.”
Ellis has facilitated OST deliver of school supplies to local teachers, new books to librarians, as well as food for weekend supplemental backpacks to address food insecurity in elementary-age children.
King, West, and Ellis would agree that it is impossible to measure the impact that OST has had in the region, specifically in Oneida.
“We’ve been able to provide goods to survivors of domestic violence as they start new lives. As well as needed to help families whose life was impacted by good, from OST. Ginn was abused by her first husband who later took the lives of their two children. OST helped her get a new start.
Today, as a happily married mother of two, she spends one day a week at the warehouse as a way to give back to the community. In 2018, Ginn was crowned Mrs. Tennessee and she used that platform to educate community members about issues relating to intimate partner violence.
“Dawn messaged me about coming to volunteer,” Ginn said. “I came and tried it and I loved it. Then I came back again, and I loved it. I kept coming back. How, Dawn and I do outreach events together in the community.”
Ellis and Ginn are the embodiment of what CAP and OST represent everyday—partnerships that create opportunities to expand impact.
“That’s what our mission is – to get goods out to where they need to go,” Ellis said. “It’s about giving and helping. That’s what we do.”