In parts of rural Kentucky, the poverty rate is 50% higher than the national average. Here, the average salary for a 50-year-old man is just $12,000 a year. That’s not much, but for people who can’t find a job, that’s a fortune.
One of these folks is Paul – a burly man who seems like a modern day Grizzly Adams. Paul lives way outside of town with his son Zach. In most parts of our country, this house would be condemned. But this crumbling old house is home for this father and son team.
Here, surrounded by lush beauty, Paul is struggling to raise 8-year old Zach alone. He has no job, no steady source of income. He lives off the land—and by earning money doing whatever he can.
Paul didn’t realize he even had a son until six years ago when he got a tip that an old girlfriend had a child who looked just like him. The old girlfriend was a drug addict who was incapable of raising a child.
He immediately went to work to find the child who had been placed in foster care. After a full year of court hearings and parenting classes, he received full custody of this handsome boy who is a mix of white, black and Native American.
Paul was living in Ohio at the time he received custody of Zach, with a steady job as a bouncer at a club. But the crime-ridden neighborhood was no place to raise a child, so he moved back to Kentucky to be in the land he loved, the land of his childhood.
He could never have dreamed that life could be this hard. The only house they can afford is 100 years old. They get their water from a water well that often runs dry. Indoor plumbing is a recent addition – they used an outhouse until a few months ago. An old wash tub is in the bathroom for washing the clothes. An old wood stove will keep the house warm in the winter—there is no indoor heating—but the shelves are lined with books and the house is fairly neat and organized.
The house is surrounded by 192 acres of corn fields and tobacco fields, all belonging to the landlord. Paul’s rent is $200 a month – a fee he works off by working the land.
Paul doesn’t feel sorry for himself and is more than happy to work hard. He’ll do just about anything to make money, from putting up hay to collecting recyclables. And he’s proud to say he’s lost 100 pounds doing hard labor over the past year or two. Still, Paul doesn’t always make enough to pay the rent… or the utilities… or buy food or gas. Thankfully he has a patient landlord who understands how tough times are.
These last few months have been especially hard. There’s been no money to buy food at the market, so Paul and Zach lived off the vegetables from the garden and the fruit on the trees. There was no money for meat, though they are able to hunt for food with Paul’s 50c shotgun. And he’s proud of his boy, who got his first squirrel and possum this summer – with a bow and arrow. But now the bow string is broken—and there’s no money to fix it.
When we ask Zach what it feels like when he is hungry, he lowers his eyes. “It makes me feel sad when I’m hungry….when I’m hungry, I get a little dizzy, like I am right now. I wish there was more food in the refrigerator. I wish there was ham or chicken….sometimes it gets really low.”
But Zach is an optimistic boy with a heart full of love for his dad. “We have a really good bond. That’s pretty much why we help each other. He loves me and I love him.”
It was a neighbor, Leroy, who first told us about this father-son family. He sees Zach get off the bus and knows how hungry he is every day. Although Leroy is feeding eight people—including four grandchildren—Leroy welcomes Zach in and feeds him almost every day.
“That boy back in the holler,” Leroy tells us, “I give him groceries because he don’t have nothing. He gets off the school bus and I boil hotdogs. I ask him, ‘You hungry honey, you want some hotdogs?’ And he says,‘Hotdogs are my favorite.’ I give him food because I know he don’t have nothing back there to eat.” Zach calls old Leroy his Pappaw.
There may be a shortage of food and money in this Kentucky community, but there’s no shortage of love and compassion.
In a country where many 8-year-old boys are demanding the latest tech toys and video games, this bright, articulate boy with so little has one big wish: “If I had more food, I’d feel great. I’d be happy. I’d have all the food I need. All I need is more food.”
There are so many children like Zach in America—way too many. Can you help their wishes come true? On this Father’s Day, stand with Zach’s father Paul—and the parents all across the country who just want their kids to have the opportunity to be kids.