On December 8, 1949, residents picked up The Republican to read: “Shallmar Residents Are Near Starvation, Urgent Appeal Made For Food, Clothing and Cash.” It was a front page story under the masthead of the newspaper.
Mine closings and poverty were nothing new to the region, but the fact that it was so bad that children were fainting from lack of food and others not able to attend school because they didn’t have warm clothing was more than anyone with a conscience could handle.
Charles Briner, the Garrett County director of employment security for Maryland, was inundated with telephone calls that spanned the gamut from pleas for him to do something to help Shallmar to accusations that he was killing the miners.
The Oakland American Legion Auxiliary was quick to announce that it was starting a collection of clothes and food.
A Cumberland Evening Times reporter arrived in Shallmar on the day The Republican article came out. He interviewed residents for his own article, which ran the following day.
As Shallmar’s story spread, more and more letters filled Paul’s mail slot at the company store until finally all Paul was getting was a note from the postmaster and store manager, Baxter Kimble, saying to ask him for the mail.
The other person who started getting calls and letters was mine superintendent Howard Marshall. Reporters tracked him down in a Cumberland hospital recovering from minor surgery.
Marshall told reporters that he didn’t know when the mine would reopen. He seemed to have little sympathy for the plight of his miners and their families.
“I ain’t seen anyone starving yet,” Howard told the reporters. His solution was that the county welfare system should take care of them. “They pay enough taxes,” he said.
However, he wasn’t totally unsympathetic. The company wasn’t trying to collect on its house rent or company store accounts. While the rent for the largest houses in town was only $12.60 a month, in some cases, rent hadn’t been paid for over a year.
A few days after the Cumberland Evening Times appeared, a large truck rolled into town filled with fresh vegetables, meat packed on ice, canned goods, milk, dresses, pants and shirts. So many people had been calling the newspaper office asking where they could make donations that newspaper collected donations and used a company truck to make the delivery.
Seven-year-old sandy-haired Bob Hartman’s eyes bugged out at all the food. Then he saw a set of new Levi overalls that looked like they would fit someone his size.
He told one of the men, “I’d sure like to have them overalls.”
The truck driver looked at Bob and his threadbare clothes. “We’ll see if we can’t get them for you.”
The man walked away. When he came back a minute later, he had the overalls in his arms and handed them to Bob. He ran home and tried them on, pulling the stiff material over his worn pants and shirt. The overalls weren’t a perfect fit, but it was good enough. He felt warmer without any drafts whipping through the holes in his pants. Though Christmas was still two weeks away, Bob felt like it was already Christmas morning.
It looked like Christmas had come early to the town. Unshaven miners smiled behind their whiskers, mothers and wives laughed as children grabbed at the clothing separated into piles on tables in the union hall. Finding something they liked, many children hurried home to try on the clothes. Others couldn’t wait that long and began pulling on sweaters over their summer shirts and trying on shoes. It was the first time in weeks that some of them had been warm. Each family also got enough food to last them a week.
With the town’s sudden abundance, Andrick called for a community meeting in the school to decide how to distribute the food. He also told the gathered crowd that more would be coming. The townspeople formed the Shallmar Relief Committee with Andrick as the chairman.
Relief efforts for the town got a big boost when CBS broadcaster Edward R. Murrow saw the story on the news wires and told the country about Shallmar on his Dec. 13 broadcast. More reporters, including Murray Kempton from the New York Post, started arriving in town to follow-up on the story of the town on the verge of starvation.
By the time The Republican article had come out, the Garrett County Commissioners had already decided to fund a hot lunch program for Shallmar School, a building without a kitchen or cafeteria.
The union hall in the school could be used as the dining hall, but there was no way to prepare the meals. The commissioners weren’t willing to pay for a school expansion and the kitchens in the houses in Shallmar were too small to prepare hot lunches for large groups. The solution was to cook the meals at Kitzmiller School, which was two miles away. The food was then dished out on plates that were covered and driven to Shallmar to be served while they were still hot.
With a plan in place, the commissioners allocated $1,200 to feed the students at Shallmar through the end of the school year. Andrick also allocated money that the town had been receiving to pay for the students’ portion of their lunches.
On Dec. 17, students sat down at two long wooden tables and had their first hot lunch in weeks, if not months.