Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
It was the kind of evening that made you feel guilty about ever having felt sorry for yourself. It was reminiscent of the late '60s when churches were filled with young people united for a cause, and some fine music was thrown in as well.
Wednesday at a Christmas benefit at Grace Episcopal Church, the cause was coal miners - 150 coal miners from Stearns, Ky., who have been on strike for 17 months trying to force the Blue Diamond Coal Company to sign a United Mine Workers contract.
For these coal miners, it is their second Christmas out of work, the second year when their families, living on $100-a-week strike benefits, must try, nonetheless, to make it a merry Christmas.
"How has my family lived on $100 a week for 17 months?" said Darryl Vanover, one of the striking miners who spoke to Wednesday's group. "Very poorly, that's how. We get food stamps and people have sent all of us clothes. Another union sent us hams for Christmas, and at one benefit like this in Texas the donation fee was a toy for our kids.
"It's tough but we have to do it because we feel Blue Diamond is . . . forcing us to work in unsafe conditions. But it's really not so bad sometimes. The 150 people down there are the best group of people I've ever known. We're like family.Besides, I was born and raised in Stearns, Ky., and I'll be damned if any big company is going to run me away from by home."
The benefit itself drew around 200 people. It was largely organized by Heleny Cook, a private consultant on community organizing, who explained that organized help for coal miners like the Stearns group was virtually nonexistent.
"There's this whole underground of people like myself who have worked in the mountains and understand how important the UMW is to coal miners. So I just got together everybody I knew from that underground to help with this benefit tonight.We hope to raise around $3,000."
The evening's musical entertainment included singer-composer Hazel Dickens, Bill Worthington, Guy and Candy Carawan, who had flown up from New Market, Tenn., and Phyllis Boyens, whose father, Nimrod Workman, is a West Virginia coal miner and singer of some repute.
Prior to the music, the group saw a film illustrating the miners' grievances with Blue Diamond, which was narrated by former coal miner John Cox, now a strike organizer for the International UMW. "All this money tonight goes into the Stearns relief fund, which takes care of the strikers' families. This money will help a lot, because every Christmas each family gets $150 extra," he said.