COVID-19 Advisory Council reviews most pressing needs of Southwest Virginia organizations, begins plans for first relief efforts

(Abingdon, VA) April 3, 2020 – United Way of Southwest Virginia’s COVID-19 Fund Advisory Council held their first meeting this morning.  Co-chaired by Mike Quillen and Tommy Casteel, the Council reviewed the investment in the fund to date and data from a survey completed by more than 150 health and human service organizations and child care agencies.

More than half of the child care agencies that responded to the survey have closed as a result of the current pandemic.  The survey showed that the greatest need people in the region face is food, followed closely by child care.

The survey also revealed that almost 60% of the agencies that completed the survey have less than 90 days of operating funds available.

The Council discussed the critical importance of communication about both needs and available resources during this unprecedented event.  Tommy Casteel, Co-Chair of the Council, said, “It is important that we all work together, because this is the biggest challenge of our lifetime.  We know that people in our region who live paycheck to paycheck are now suffering the most. It is critical that we use local resources to give help and hope to our friends and neighbors who have never needed state or federal assistance before.”

Mary Begley, United Way Board Chair and External Affairs Manager for Appalachian Power said, “I am thrilled that so many people from across Southwest Virginia have stepped up to serve on this Council.  United Way has convened the Council because we don’t have all the answers, but we have a network of partners with a breadth of experience that we can call on in these urgent times.”

The group recommended the development of a communication plan targeted for the most vulnerable people in Southwest Virginia to help them navigate the new benefits that have become available in recent days. Co-chair Mike Quillen reminded the group, “Southwest Virginia is resilient. We will get through this–together.”

The Council will meet again virtually on Friday, April 17, 2020.  Members of the small business, nonprofit, and faith-based communities are encouraged to reach out to a Council member to share information about resources, opportunities, and support that all individuals and families in our region need at this critical time.

United Way of Southwest Virginia is actively developing funds to support these relief efforts.  Donors can text SWVARelief to 71777 to make a donation or visit

Members of the COVID-19 Relief Fund Advisory Council:

Rev. Barbara Farmer
Associate Pastor, Pleasant View United Methodist Church

Michael Quillen
Co-Chair of the COVID-19 Response Fund Advisory Council
Former Chairman/Founder of Alpha Natural Resources

Travis Staton
President and CEO
United Way of Southwest Virginia

Mary Begley
United Way Board Chair
External Affairs Manager, Appalachian Power

Delegate Israel O’Quinn
Virginia House of Delegates

Michelle McPheron
Senior Nurse Manager, Lenowisco Health District

Dennis Carter, Ed.D.
Smyth County Schools Superintendent

Marty Holliday
Executive Director, New River/Mount Rogers Workforce Development Board

Aleta Spicer
Executive Director, Southwest Virginia Workforce Development Board

Tommy Casteel
Co-Chair of the COVID-19 Response Fund Advisory Council
Former Director, Virginia Department of Social Services Western Regional Offices

Dan Counts
Senior Vice President, New Peoples Bank

Sandy Ratliff
Assistant Vice President/Community Impact Advisor, Virginia Community Capital, Inc.

Jonathan D. Sweet, ICMA-CM
County Administrator, Pulaski County

Susan White
Director Senior Volunteer Services, Clinch Valley Community Action, Inc.

Jennifer Lilly
Director, Western Region, Virginia Department of Social Services

Scott Robertson
Editor, The Business Journal of Tri-Cities TN/VA

Todd Norris
Sr VP, Community Health & System Advancement, Ballad Health

Tim McVey
Human Resources Manager, Utility Trailer Mfg. Co.

Donna P. Henry, Ph.D.
Chancellor, University of Virginia’s College at Wise

Paul Hoyle
Emergency Services Coordinator, Grayson County

Maranda Daniels
Lunchbox276, Founder and President

Breanne Forbes-Hubbard
Population Health Manager
Mt. Rogers Health District, Virginia Department of Health