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Cover Story Moves Readers to Action


November-December Cover Story Elicits Positive Response from Readership

December Web Exclusive – click here for the original story

by Laura Emery, Staff Writer

As the November-December issue of Cooperative Living magazine slid into mailboxes across Virginia and Maryland, Michael and Crystal Barnett, of Farmville, Va., were both excited and nervous.

Soon, nearly 590,000 households would get to meet their eight-year-old son, Matthew, whose smiling face was featured on the issue’s cover. And, within the pages of the issue, Michael and Crystal had shared their family’s deeply personal story.

They discussed the heart wrenching day they were told by a geneticist that their son had very rare Williams syndrome and would not likely live past the age of two. (Spoiler: He’s eight years old now.)

They discussed their decision to receive help from a local food bank, FACES Food Pantry, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Barnetts opened up to Cooperative Living readers about the many blessings and struggles that come with having a child with special needs.

It wasn’t long before the emails and messages began to pour in. The Barnett’s story resonated with many readers. Readers were even moved to action and inquired how to send donations or gifts to the family.

It was the cooperative spirit in full effect.

Kevin and Emily Conner, owners of Mill Gap Farms in Monterey, Va., were particularly touched by the Barnett’s story. “We have been blessed by God with so much, all of which we do not deserve, and it has become part of our way of life to share those blessings with others. I felt our products could help the Barnetts. We gave them our maple syrup and freeze-dried organic apples. We also offered them a stay in our cottage … sort of way to get out of their world for a couple days and enjoy a slower pace,” the Conners responded when asked why they reached out to the family.

The Barnetts were touched by the community’s overwhelmingly positive response to their family’s story.

“It’s been a blessing to be able to share Matthew’s story with everyone through the Cooperative Living article. It reminds us that we have a village that is helping us to raise Matthew and take care of him. And even though we have worries about how he is going to be provided for in the future, we know there are a lot of people out there caring for him and are interested in supporting us. We are very appreciative for everything the Cooperative Living article has done for us,” Crystal says.

Spreading awareness about Williams syndrome and the good work done by FACES Food Pantry were the two motivating factors for the Barnetts to share their story.

“When we found out Matthew had Williams syndrome, we had never heard of it. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who have also never heard of it. So being able to reach so many people through the Cooperative Living article was extremely important to us,” Crystal says.

Joanna Baker, FACES Food Pantry co-president, says, “We have received a great deal of positive feedback from the article, some coming from friends who live far outside our service area but are served by Southside Electric Cooperative.” She says they are currently doing a fundraising campaign right now and reiterates that FACES depends on individual donations and small grants from community businesses and organizations to keep doing what they do.

“FACES had been helping us during COVID to make sure Matthew had enough of his basic foods that we know he likes to eat,” Crystal explains. “We were extremely grateful for them.”

Since their story appeared in Cooperative Living, the Barnetts say Matthew has reached several developmental milestones. Matthew can now request his milk and pretzels using his Tobii device. “It’s a big step for him learning he can use his device for things other than movies and music,” she explains. The Tobii is a speech-generating device that opens a world of communication for non-verbal individuals.

Matthew tried a chocolate doughnut from Twysted Systers’ Donuts – and Crystal reports that he liked it a lot. He has also started using his spoon more, and uses it to carefully eat his applesauce. “It’s good to see him progress in that area,” Crystal says.

The family has also welcomed a new family member: a nine-week-old labradoodle named Ace.

“It definitely felt like the community’s response to the article captured the spirit of Christmas,” Crystal pointed out. “We have been so touched.”

“This is what I love most about our little co-op magazine … reading stories like the one on Matthew Barnett. Thank you for giving us a glimpse into their world, Cooperative Living!” wrote reader Sarah Chulley.

Says Cooperative Living Executive Editor Gregg MacDonald, “The readers’ overwhelmingly positive response to our November-December cover story is why we do what we do here at Cooperative Living magazine. It is our goal to provide content that entertains, informs and moves our readers – the members of Virginia’s and Maryland’s electric cooperatives.” Cooperative Living thanks the Barnett family and FACES Food Pantry for allowing us to tell their story.

click here for the original story