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(The following was written by Peter Prengaman, an Associated Press editor based in Georgia.)

It would be embarrassing if it were not so humbling.

Hours after the West Virginia mine explosion (Monday, Apr. 5), scores of journalists from all over the country started arriving--in a very rural area with no communications or places to sleep closer than an hour’s drive away.

When the governor began giving press briefings at Marsh Fork Elementary School, journalists began getting comfortable at the site a few miles from the mine entrance, and we never left. By Tuesday, a couple dozen satellite trucks filled the parking lot, and classrooms with tiny chairs and paintings on the walls were turned into newsrooms and bedrooms.

And all of a sudden there was food--a lot of food. Pepperoni pizza. Pulled pork and beans. Fried chicken, potatoes and green beans. Cookies. Crackers. Doughnuts of all stripes.

Usually I lose a few pounds while covering stories like this. The deadlines are too tight, the access to food often limited. This time, I’ll be going home a little rounder, and with a touched heart.

The food was cooked by residents and donated by businesses in this community. Some of it came by way of a local Red Cross, a Wal-Mart and a United Way, but even more was the home cooking of kind West Virginians who just wanted to take care of us.

Imagine, here we are, an aggressive and hard-charging bunch of journalists in the middle of this devastated community, and it’s they who are taking care of us!

The kindness hasn’t been lost on any of us. By Thursday, two plastic jars--“school collection” and “community collection”--were put out, and by Friday both had a few hundred dollars. I feel like we owe this school and these people so much more.

When I asked interim principal Shelly Prince how folks could be so giving at a time like this, she said that many felt it was soothing to help others. This situation made them feel helpless, and helping others was doing something. She also said it gave people a chance to show the world what West Virginians are “really like.”

“Often on TV, we are not portrayed in such a good manner. We often are portrayed as ignorant and backward,” she said. “But we are just ordinary people who live ordinary lives.”

I have to disagree. These people are extraordinary.

*          *          *          *          *

Publisher Helen Morris is now recuperating from knee surgery with her children, and is doing very well

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