"Coal Keeps the Lights On" candles raise money for Kentucky miners

By: Morgan Lentes Email
By: Morgan Lentes Email
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UPDATED: 12/18 at 6PM

HARLAN, Ky (WYMT) - Laid-off coal miners represent a growing eastern Kentucky population. They dug deep underground for years to keep your lights on and they now battle to keep their own on.

Mark Saylor said life has not been easy since he learned his job as a miner was going away.

"I mean we really were not expecting it. Me and my wife, we decided to have another child and once I got the layoff, she was probably three months out from having her child," said Saylor.

When the paychecks stopped coming, Saylor said the bills did not.

"Once you got a family and a home, it is kind of hard to uproot and leave," said Saylor.

His story is not unique. Fellow laid-off miner Everett Denniston told WYMT he can relate to Saylor's struggles.

"Coal is a way of life. This is our factory. This is our industry," said Denniston.

But with more and more hits to the coal industry, there is a greater need for help.

That is where the civic group Harlan 20/20 got its inspiration. So they started selling "Coal Keeps the Lights On" candles to ease the burden these men face when trying to make ends meet.

"I had seen a few of the candles setting out but never paid no attention to them," said Denniston.

The proceeds from the candles go to paying electric bills for former miners in need. Both Saylor and Denniston are recipients of the aid. They said the news sounded too good to be true.

"Is it late? Is it overdue or something? I thought it was paid and she (Saylor's wife) said, no, no, no, not that. She said, some lady called wanting to pay it," said Saylor.

Denniston said it is a generosity that is hard to find.

"Really it makes you really want to break down and cry to think there is people out there, right in your community, that has got that kind of heart," said Denniston.

So far, organizers with Harlan 20/20 said they have raised more than $16,000. You can purchase candles online until the end of January.
HARLAN, Ky (WYMT) - One community is finding a creative way to "keep the lights on" for unemployed coal miners this holiday season.

For many, a burning candle is a symbol of hope and that is exactly what laid-off coal miners need right now. That is why a civic group, Harlan 20/20, hatched a plan to sell coal-themed candles to help those folks out. Cathy Bianchi is a member of Harlan 20/20 and said her group's efforts go beyond politics.

"Regardless of how you feel about coal, whether it is pro-coal, anti-coal, everyone wants to help the unemployed coal miner," said Bianchi.

The candles are made by Goose Creek Candle Company of Liberty, Kentucky and will cost $20.00. Harlan 20/20 and Goose Creek will split the profits. That means each $10.00 the local organization raises will go to pay electric bills for miners in need.

"With the coal keeps the lights on, we want to help the coal miners, the unemployed coal miners, be able to keep their lights on, especially during this holiday season," said Bianchi.

Brandon Pennington is the executive director for the Harlan Tourism and Convention Commission and a member of Harlan 20/20. He helped design the candle's label, which includes a train carrying coal and the phrase "Coal Keeps The Lights On". He said channeling the area's rich heritage was important to project organizers.

"Coal is such an important industry to our community. We are such a tight knit community as well that anyone in the community wants to help out any other family within the community," said Pennington.

For project organizer Marie Whitfield, she hopes the candles will not just stay in eastern Kentucky. In fact, she has launched a Facebook advertising campaign to spread their message beyond the state's borders.

"I have gotten calls from California, New Jersey, Alabama. So we are hoping that everyone will keep sharing it until the whole nation comes together and helps Kentucky," said Whitfield.

The group said all it takes is a purchase.

"It is just a small way that anyone can help and we are neighbors helping neighbors, we are businesses helping businesses and we are families helping families," said Bianchi.

Whitfield said hopefully the approaching holiday season will help their cause even more and give people a memory to cherish for years to come.

"When you burn a flame at Christmas, every time you see a candle, you will think you are helping a family in southeastern Kentucky," said Whitfield.

With each candle, Whitfield said they want to light the way for a brighter tomorrow for coal miners and their families. Candles are for sale at three locations in Harlan: Southern Wholesale, the Harlan Center and Sheer Inspirations. You can also order them online. The link to do so is listed below.

Lastly, if you are a coal miner impacted by unemployment, you can call the Harlan County Community Action Agency at 1-606-573-5331 and ask for Donna Pace. She can help you find out if you qualify for assistance from Harlan 20/20's proceeds from the candle sales. A link to that website is also below.

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