Columbus retiree’s Kentucky aid trips more urgent after flooding

At 75, Roger Neptune may use a cane, but it sure hasn’t slowed him down much. You might say he’s on a mission.

The Columbus native has made four dozen relief trips to southeastern Kentucky in recent years. His charitable work has been such a blessing to the Bluegrass state that the governor in 2018 awarded Neptune the commonwealth’s highest honor, naming the retired Hoosier machinist a Kentucky colonel.

Now that deadly floods have devastated the places where Neptune has hauled a Ford 450 flatbed pickup and trailer full of donations over the years, he’s hoping local people will load him up next weekend for his 49th trip. Maybe even his 50th.

“I am interested in first-stage needs” to help people clean up and recover from the deadly floods, Neptune said. The emphasis is on cleaning supplies, such as nonbleach chemicals and sanitizers, brooms, mops, water, towels and paper goods, though nonperishable food and personal hygiene items also will be accepted.

“People need to stop and think, ‘What would happen if I were flooded out? What would I need?” he said.

Neptune and a crew of volunteers will be collecting such items beginning at 7 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 13, at the Columbus Cheer Fund building, 2674 Verhulst St., near Columbus Municipal Airport.

“I’m going to be there till the last car comes through,” Neptune said. He’ll then haul the donated items to hard-hit Whitesburg in Letcher County, Kentucky. It’s a place Neptune knew well before it became known as the epicenter of disastrous flooding that has killed dozens.

“He’s always been kind of big in that part of the country,” Columbus firefighter and Cheer Fund co-chairman Justin Simms said of Neptune. When Neptune asked if he could use the Cheer Fund building as a distribution drop-off point, Simms quickly agreed.

Simms said that Neptune has helped out in the past whenever the Cheer Fund has had more books or other items than it could distribute locally. Neptune loaded them up and delivered them to recipients in Kentucky.

He hauls donated items to Whitesburg, Jenkins and other remote, low-income communities in southeastern Kentucky. And he’s always found people in need who are grateful for the help. “I know somewhere along the line, somebody somewhere is going to get some relief,” Neptune said.

Neptune became involved years back in helping out in the region through his church, East Columbus United Methodist, which does mission work in southeastern Kentucky.

After volunteering on those trips for a few years, Neptune said, “I felt a stirring inside that Jesus was wanting me to do something other.” He began collecting donations through word of mouth.

“It’s grown ever since,” he said. At times, he said he’s hauled as many as four loads a month into the hills of southeastern Kentucky.

Garry Taylor, missions chairman at East Columbus United Methodist Church, said he’s known Neptune for many years, including when he took part in the United Methodist Church’s work camp outreach at the Red Bird Mission in southeastern Kentucky.

East Columbus UMC for years has sent mission teams to the remote Kentucky work camp for a week of work each year, and will do so again beginning Sept. 25, Taylor said. They spend the week directly helping local people, working on “decks, roofs, flooring, siding, remodeling kitchens, remodeling bathrooms — all kinds of odds and ends to help people who can’t afford it,” Taylor said.

Neptune had helped out on a few such trips, Taylor said, but then he realized a different calling.

“I have to hand it to him. To make a round trip down there is four-and-a-half hours or more if you don’t stop,” Taylor said. “He just took it upon himself that he would do it, and he did it without asking for money, so that was very generous of him to donate his time.

“That was his way of saying, ‘I want to help some people out, too,’” Taylor said.

How to help

Donations of cleaning supplies and essentials bound for flood-ravaged Whitesburg, Ky. will be collected Saturday, Aug. 13 beginning at 7 a.m. at the Columbus Cheer Fund building, 2674 Verhulst St., near Columbus Municipal Airport.

Items most in need include:

—Nonbleach cleansers and cleaning supplies

—Brooms and mops

—Towels and washcloths

—Bottled water

—Paper supplies

—Trash bags

—Nonperishable food items

—Personal hygiene items such as soap, shampoo and toothpaste