The Appalachia Cafe is part of the nonprofit opioid epidemic


A bell tower rises from the arched roof. The brightly colored stained glass adds a splash of color to the interior of the window frames. At the front, a poster welcomes visitors every day with a new message.

Today, there are grilled pepper cheese sandwiches, a tomato basil soup and a typical salad.

The doors open and the smiling guests leave after having their lunch at the Appalachia Cafe in South Charleston.

As most visitors can quickly see, the restaurant / cafe, open since July, is located in an old church.

But Appalachia coffee is not limited to food.

According to Cheryl Laws, CEO and founder of Pollen8, she is a staple for the community and aims to help combat the epidemic of opioids by providing women with a learning and work environment sure in the context of long-term recovery programs.

Laws, a native of Charleston, worked as a hairdresser for 20 years when she decided to change things.

"It just touched my heart and I said, 'OK, I'm going back to school, OK, I'm going to do that,'" she says. "And that's my way since."

Law's "pathway" led to her studies in sociology, followed by a master's degree in Appalachian Studies from the Appalachian State University in Boone, NC.

It is then that Laws' plans are born.

"It's actually my thesis," she says, looking around from her location on a sofa at the back of the cafe.

"It's basically the way to reintegrate an addict into West Virginia society," she says. "So when I went out (from school), I created Pollen8."

Pollen8, says Laws, is the non-profit umbrella under which Café Appalachia exists.

"It's the idea of ​​pollination in a community," she explains, explaining the name, which includes the number 8, for the infinite. "For me, it means doing your part or doing your medicine, so to speak."

Through his research, Laws has determined that Pollen8 should focus on prevention and reintegration. Thus, in addition to the Café Appalachia, Pollen8 trained the Academy of Appalachia working in schools, even associating them with the police in the hope of finding children before the drugs find them, Camp Appalachia for kids in summer and Appalachian Behavioral Health Care, to provide treatment for addicts and their families.

But perhaps Appalachia Coffee has been the focus of attention so far and is best suited for community participation.

Two days a week, a group of women registered at the Recovery Point treatment center in Charleston goes to Cafe Appalachia where Laws learns everything from culinary skills to gardening, the restaurant being presented as a buffet from farm to table.

"We work with them to give them a set of skills with which they can find a job," she says. "For now, we start with coffee, but we will evolve according to their interests.After graduation, everyone will have a food manager card."

From its opening until the end of October, Café Appalachia is associated with the Kanawha Institute of Social Research and Action (KISRA), where women participating in the program grew vegetables for the restaurant. But the women also worked hard to convert the yard near the cafe, the former St. John's United Methodist Church playground, into a vegetable garden.

"They help design the garden," says Laws. "Two weeks ago, they shoveled 8 tons of pebbles, and we are building a greenhouse, and that's their next project."

The outdoor space, which will soon include a sitting area, also includes a memorial garden, butterfly shrubs and a West Virginia shaped fireplace adorned with brightly painted rocks with messages such as "Love, Hope Faith" and "Your past should not continue to be repeated."

The women participating in the program are not paid for the moment, but Laws recently wrote a $ 50,000 grant and hopes to pay them $ 8.75 by the hour soon.

"I wanted to pay them $ 15, but everything has its own movement," she says.

Women also receive therapeutic treatment in terms of professional counseling and help to establish where they are mentally in their recovery.

"We have a reintegration specialist who sits down and calculates:" How much did you mess up? ", Explains Laws." Who is still talking to you in your family? Can we fix it with therapy? "

They are women, she said, with whom she chose to work because it is often women who have to keep the family together.

"Because I am a woman," she says. "I know that sometimes men take their responsibilities and assume their responsibilities, but they are usually women and I can do anything that I want to help the children, but it will not help me if I do not fix them. mothers. "

It's a busy day inside the Appalachia cafe while the lunch crowd is moving steadily.

Vickie Ballengee has been on several occasions because she is the executive director of the Department of Heart Awareness and Hands, right next door.

"We work together," she says of both organizations. "Last Sunday, we organized our annual hunger fundraiser and concluded our event here to help inform the community of what it is doing here, where we collaborate whenever we can. They succeed. "

Ballengee has lunch with his friend Bernie Deem, a visitor for the first time on a mission.

"I love to eat and being able to eat for a good cause fascinates me," she says, adding a recommendation for signature salad.

Coffee dinner plates are available in two sizes – small and large – and at recommended prices of $ 7 or $ 8 for small and $ 9 or $ 10 for large ones.

"That's what you can afford today," said Emily Boggess, head of the barista / manager, explaining that anything above the recommended price was poured into the donation pot with the product this sale, which would be used to cover expenses such as the one coffee will buy soon.

But Boggess says that those who can not afford to pay can still have a meal, provided they are ready to work for an hour.

"So it's a helping hand and not a gift," she says.

And it's one of the things that, according to Laws, makes Cafe Appalachia a special place.

Boggess says that she knows that Appalachia coffee is special.

She has been treated and clean for two years, but as a criminal – a former banker with flagrant malfeasance – it can be difficult to find a good job. She says that Appalachia coffee is a good job.

"I want to work in a safe environment and not be so institutionalized," she says. "Here, I can be honest with my colleagues and say," Hey, I have to go to a (treatment) meeting. "And if someone comes here and has a family member who has to undergo treatment, I have resources that I can help give them information or give them a card. "

She says that being able to do it gives her the impression of amending herself.

"It's a way of giving back to my community what I got from it while I was in the madness," she says. "I just love to be able to let people know that we are doing our part and trying to help.The opioid epidemic is not going away." So, what can I do for the company? 39; improve "?

Lois has a suggestion.

"Do you want to get involved?" she asks. "Come here and eat, it helps, volunteers help."

And although she says she would like to see more places like the Appalachia Cafe, she says it's a unique hit for her because she wants to focus on other aspects of Pollen8.

"I'll never do another of these things," she says. "But one of the grants I've got, I have to hold a presentation to tell other communities how to proceed." My ultimate goal for coffee would be to spread them throughout West Virginia – the same pattern. I would give this tool and I would talk to people to help them. "

She continued: "I said to someone else the other day, in my mind, I'm so naive, but in my mind, I'm Pollen's project leader." I've created a program, but what I've become is really a restaurateur.But I'm not a restaurateur and I'm therefore trying to find someone who can take over because I want to build. Pollen8 I am a queen of bees I want to build hives It is my skill set My long term goal is to build a program that takes an addict from the beginning to the end to show that everything I've learned works and that recovery can only take 30 days. "