BUCKHANNON — One in seven West Virginians reportedly face food insecurity daily, and one in five children goes hungry every day. These numbers have only climbed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Strategic Gifts Officer for Mountaineer Food Bank, Laura Hedrick, presented these staggering statistics regarding food insecurity in the state to Rotarians Tuesday afternoon.
According to Hedrick, there is a food insecurity rate of 13.9% in West Virginia and the people facing hunger need an estimated $114,692,000 more, per year, to meet their food needs. Given these staggering statistics, there is a great need in the state for organizations like Mountaineer Food Bank.
Mountaineer Food Bank was founded in 1981 and located in Gassaway, WV due to its central location in the state. Their mission is “To feed West Virginia’s hungry through a network of member feeding programs and engage our state in the fight to end hunger.” According to Hedrick, “MFB provides food and other household items to over 480 feeding programs in 48 (out of 55) counties in West Virginia. These programs include food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, senior programs, backpack programs, and churches.”
There are several food pantries in state, but only two food banks—Mountaineer Food Bank being one of the two. Hedrick notes that are differences between the two using the analogy of a bank and an ATM. She explained the bank has cash that they then place in the ATM for distribution—“We are the bank and food pantries are the ATMs.” Food pantries are feeding program agencies where hungry families can receive food. Supplied with food from a food bank, pantries feed hundreds of people per week. Because every community is different, there are many different types of pantries, Hedrick explained. “A food bank is a nonprofit food distributor that safely distributes millions of pounds of food that will soon be delivered to local food programs, like a food pantry,” she clarified. Over the years, MFB has become the largest food provider in West Virginia, distributing over 29 million pounds annually.
Hedrick noted the several MFB outreach programs for communities that lack grocery stores, food access points, and/or food pantries. They provide food via their mobile pantry program, which is set up monthly at the Event Center at Brushy Fork, Wildlife Center, and Buckhannon-Upshur High School.
They serve hundreds of families in just two hours with this drive-through style food pantry distribution. They also provide monthly food boxes to veterans and households of veterans. There are no income guidelines for this program, just proof of military ID.
MFB also provides a fresh initiative with kid’s markets programs—one day events held within elementary schools. Produce is delivered and set up in market-style display and each student receives 7-10 pounds of fresh produce and recipes. They also learn about nutrition, local growers and agriculture. In Upshur County, this program takes place at French Creek and Rock Cave Elementary schools. This program in Upshur is funded by generous community partners, the Pallottine Foundation and Upshur County BOE, Hedrick noted. Also providing for children, is their backpack program. This provides kids who experience food scarcity at home, food for the weekend.
Through their Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), they also provide food to low-income elderly people who are at least 60 years of age. Each senior receives a monthly food box that contains juices, milk, cereal or oatmeal, protein, vegetables, fruits and cheese. There are income eligibility requirements for this program.
Prior to COVID-19, an estimated 250,000 people were struggling with hunger and since the pandemic, that number has increased to 324,000, Hedrick reported. She also reported a 30% increase in demand for assistance at both food banks in the state—Mountaineer Food Bank and Facing Hunger Foodbank. Mountaineer Food Bank reported an additional 9 million pounds of food distributed, compared to their statistics in 2019.
MFB also opened up two new warehouse locations during COVID, one of which is in neighboring Lewis County.
Hedrick emphasized that as a non-profit, MFB really relies on community partners to help them complete necessary tasks to feed all the hungry individuals in West Virginia. They also support the West Virginia economy by working with local farmers to provide healthy meals via their outreach programs. “It’s nice to know we are helping support our state rather than using national distributors,” she added.
Rotary Club of Buckhannon-Upshur President Kathy McMurray noted that the club will be looking over time for potential volunteer opportunities through MFB.
For more information about MFB, visit their website at https://www.mountaineerfoodbank.org/ or visit their Facebook page.
In other Rotary news regarding, a blood screening will be held August 28. They have increased the number of spots available for this drive, but they’re already filling up fast, noted Rotarian Rich Clemens. They’re also partnering for a vaccine clinic on August 30 at the Parish House to offer the Johnson & Johnson one dose shot.
Rotary will also be participating in the Children’s Festival on September 18, where they will be set up offering several children’s books available for kids to take home.
Through Rotary’s partnership with Upshur Schools, the “Go Wild, Feed a Child” backpack program was one of 200 programs selected for the State Farm Neighborhood Program. Vanessa Perkins submitted the application, along with 1,999 other submissions in just 45 minutes, approximately. They now have a chance to receive one of 40, $25,000 grants. To win, Upshur County needs everyone’s votes and people can now vote 10 times a day, for 10 days. This is the only cause in West Virginia to make it to the top 200 programs for funding consideration.
Rotary also inducted new member Bob Skinner on Tuesday. Skinner expressed, “I am thrilled to rejoin Rotary. I believe in Rotary so strongly and it is a great organization.”