A civic group is trying to keep the electricity on for laid-off coal miners in Harlan County through sales of decorative, coal-themed candles.
The group, Harlan 2020, had a good deal of success with the project last year, raising enough money to help pay the electric bills of more than 100 families for three months.
Some of the families would have had their electricity turned off if not for the project, said Rie Whitfield, who is active in Harlan 2020.
"It made me feel so good ... just knowing that these people were warm," Whitfield said.
Sales have been a bit slower so far this year, Whitfield said, so members of the group hope things pick up in the remaining days until Christmas.
Goose Creek Candle Co. in Casey County has teamed up with Harlan 2020 for the project. The company sells the candles at a deep discount to the group, forgoing much of its profit.
"We know how people in the eastern part of the state are suffering," said Micah Meece, national sales manager for Goose Creek.
Eastern Kentucky has been hit by a sharp downturn in the coal industry. About half the miners once employed in the region have been laid off since early 2012.
Some have moved away to find work, but many remain, said Donna Pace, head of the Harlan County Community Action Agency.
The agency screens people for participation in Harlan 2020's project.
"The need's still here," Pace said.
This year, the 26-ounce jar candles are available in three scents and three different labels. The wax in all of them is dyed black to simulate coal.
Bob Howard, an artist in Harlan County, allowed the group to use his prints for the labels, Whitfield said.
Whitfield said the candles are available in a number of places, including Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington; the Pine Mountain and Cumberland Falls state parks; stores in Harlan; and on the Goose Creek website at http://www.goosecreekcandle.com/Coal-Candles/.
The company will sell the candles through the end of January, Meece said.
Whitfield said she and others are working to keep people from having to move away.
"We're fighting for Harlan County," she said.