Cafe Appalachia

Cafe Appalachia is in a renovated United Methodist Church Building in South Charleston.

Hope.

Contained within those four letters is a meaning that perhaps no other word in the 170,000-word English lexicon can equal. Though the verb hope has a formal definition — Merriam-Webster defines it as “to cherish a desire with anticipation” — it is woefully inadequate to fully describe hope as a conception.

More than anything, hope is a feeling, certainly nebulous, yet uniquely palpable. It is a vision of a better life or better circumstances, and in places like West Virginia and Appalachia, hope can be needed just to make it from one day to the next — a type of spiritual nourishment.

While spiritual nourishment is key to “keep on keepin’ on,” physical nourishment is just as important and, luckily, Cafe Appalachia — part restaurant, part cafe — located in South Charleston, provides both.

Cafe Appalachia — like many other nonprofits strewn across Appalachia — is a small beam of light in what can be a dark existence. Nonprofits are often overshadowed as cultural and societal change agents, but they are critical components in building brighter futures not only for “Charleston” or “West Virginia” but, more importantly, the individuals they serve.

Cafe Appalachia offers recovering drug addicts the chance for a “hand up” by providing them the opportunity to learn important employment, life and social skills through activities such as gardening and farming, as well as working at the cafe itself.

Payment is done by a “recommended amount.” Can’t pay? Work for an hour in the cafe’s garden. On an average day, Cafe Appalachia serves six individuals who lack the means to pay.

Upon entering the nondescript former Methodist church building, one cannot help feeling optimistic ... or hopeful ... about West Virginia’s future. Smiles abound — real, genuine smiles that are forged from hardships faced and hardships conquered, even if only for a day as addiction is a day-by-day struggle.

“How do we fix the opioid crisis?” has been the most frequently-asked question in West Virginia for, sadly, many years, and answers indubitably vary — vigorous law enforcement efforts, better rehabilitation programs or more job opportunities through a stronger economy. All true, yet all are insufficient.

Like most crises, there is no silver bullet for the opioid scourge. It will require multiple efforts on multiple fronts, but there is one necessary ingredient: hope.

The hope that tomorrow can be different than today. The hope that someone, somewhere, loves and believes in them. The hope that there is something worth living and worth fighting for, even if undiscovered. The hope that regardless of how dark one’s life appears, a brighter future will soon dawn.

Cafe Appalachia offers hope in warm, heaping amounts, not only to its employees and customers, but to its community and everyone concerned about the future of this great state. The opioid crisis touches all of us differently, but touch us all, it does.

While some may go about wondering what new bureaucracy or law enforcement program will conquer the crisis, you can find me sitting down to a warm plate of food, with a satisfied smile, feeling one thing above all else ... hope.

Cafe Appalachia, 206 D St. in South Charleston, is open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.

Garrett Ballengee is the executive director of the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy, a free-market nonprofit research organization based in Charleston.