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From the heartland to the mountains

NORTH LIBERTY– For Arlene Kaczinski, what started out as boxful of good intentions turned into a truckload of them.
In February, Arlene watched a production of ABC’s “20/20” television program, when Diane Sawyer gave the world an inside look into one of the nation’s poorest regions, deep in the mountains of Appalachia.
“It showed the terrible poverty of these people,” said Arlene. “One month later, I was surfing the web and saw more about it. It mentioned the Homecoming Church in Inez, Ky.”
The Homecoming Church, run by Pastor Elmer Harris, is 10 miles outside of Inez and draws its small congregation from Calf Creek Hollow. Homecoming Church is also one of the charitable entities trying to help the children and families of Appalachia. Of its congregation of about 100, only a handful of them are employed, said Arlene. Inez has fallen victim to an ever-increasing unemployment rate in an area that relies heavily on coal mining for its economic vitality.
The television production, the people of Appalachia, and the church’s mission to help them touched Arlene’s heart. She decided to collect donations on behalf of Homecoming Church. Arlene first asked her husband, Paul, if he wanted to help – but it wasn’t exactly a request.
“I told him I was going to do it one way or another,” she said. It didn’t take much convincing, and Paul agreed to the undertaking.
The Kaczinskis enlisted the assistance of the members of their home church, North Liberty First United Methodist Church, and soon there was a box in the narthex to collect donations. The Kaczinski’s son, Tom Miller, lives in West Branch, and word of the project spread there as well. West Branch’s Bethany Lutheran Church held a bake sale, using the money to purchase baby items. Paul’s employers at the Montessori Children’s Garden in North Liberty placed a box in their lobby, too. Kids Against Hunger, a national non-profit organization, donated boxes and food items.
Eventually, the Kaczinskis’ garage became full of donations intended for the children of the mountains.
Last week, Paul and Arlene and several volunteers filled a large truck with the boxes and tubs of donated household items, food, clothing and baby goods, and the Kaczinskis hit the road for Homecoming Church.
It would be a two-day trip from their home in North Liberty to Inez, Arlene said, and they would drive 10 miles up into the mountains to get to the church to deliver the donations. Paul said the project has not seemed difficult at all.
“You don’t have to be young to do this,” he said. “Look at us, we’re both almost 70.”
As the last of the boxes were loaded onto the rental, Arlene reflected on how the giving grew from a single box to an entire truckload.
“It shows how caring people are. It makes you feel like you can do something to help,” she said. “It will mean a lot to these people.”
And she looked forward to completing the last journey in the mission.
“This has been on my bucket list,” she said, referring to a Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman film about two elderly gentlemen who make a wish-list of things to do before they kick the bucket.
“It used to be riding in a hot air balloon,” she said. “But that can wait.”