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Warren Wilson partners with Conscious Alliance to donate 20,000 pounds of food and supplies to rural Kentucky


Ten Warren Wilson students arrived in a small town in East Kentucky ready to learn and to work. The students were spending their Spring Break helping a community that was devastated by catastrophic flooding two years ago. 


The group partnered with nonprofit organization Conscious Alliance to give away more than 19,000 pounds of food, 7,000 packets of laundry detergent and 800 light bulbs to the people of Letcher County. 


Over the course of the week, the students also cleared garden beds that had been polluted by coal mining runoff during the flood, repaired homes, organized a warehouse, ventured into an underground coal mine, and facilitated a ceramics workshop. 


“We made a difference, and I think everyone grew as a result of the experience,” said Dr. Jeffrey Keith, one of the two professors at Warren Wilson College who led the trip. “I’m honored to have spent the majority of my spring break with people willing to work hard for others, and I’m happy to share that the people of East Kentucky with whom I spoke were quick to celebrate Warren Wilson College students for their positive attitudes and solid work ethics.”


The trip exemplified one of the defining features of a Warren Wilson education — community engagement. Every student at Warren Wilson College is required to participate in community engagement, or collaboration with community partners to address social justice issues.


The emphasis on community engagement impacted Warren Wilson alum Justin Levy, who now works as the executive director of Conscious Alliance. Levy volunteered with Conscious Alliance for his community engagement project while he was a student at Warren Wilson.


Now Levy heads the nonprofit hunger relief organization, which unifies bands, brands, artists, and fans to collectively support communities in crisis across the country.


Letcher County was one of 13 counties impacted by the flooding in 2022 that killed 45 people, destroyed 9,000 homes and displaced thousands more. In addition to providing enough supplies to support nearly 2,000 families, the donation brought the communities together.


Warren Wilson student Donnie Henry is from Louisiana, and has spent much of their life in New Orleans as the city rebuilds from Hurricane Katrina and other flooding, hurricanes and extreme weather events. They said giving back to a community suffering from the impact of flooding was especially meaningful to them, and that they felt especially connected to the community.


“We can’t fix everything. We can’t fix the devastation that happened in this flood, we can’t fix the food insecurity. But we can go and help individuals and see that change and how grateful people are,” Henry said. “I’ve always felt like that type of work in flood relief is something that’s just part of life, and I felt like if this community is in need in a way I feel really connected to, I want to take that opportunity to be part of it. That’s what drove me to do this, and I want to keep doing it.”


The trip not only gave the students a chance to volunteer with a community in need, it also taught them about the culture of Appalachia and the history of the region.


During the trip, the group connected with Appalshop, a media, arts and education center focused on Appalachian history and culture. They met with Warren Wilson alum Leo Shannon ‘20 who works as an archivist to document, disseminate and revitalize the lasting traditions and contemporary creativity of Appalachia.


They also connected with Blair Branch Old Regular Baptist in Jeremiah, drove around an active surface coal mine, went into a former underground coal mine, and led a ceramics workshop for the community at the Appalachian Artisan Center. 


View a news story about the trip to Kentucky here.

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