Laura Dean Bennett
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, hunger was a real issue for the most vulnerable members of our society.
A March 2020 USDA Food Security Report showed that more than 37 million people in the U.S., including 11 million children, are facing hunger.
According to the Federal Reserve, 40 percent of Americans do not have enough cash on hand to cover a $400 emergency expense.
Since the Covid-19 emergency, with so much economic hardship due to job losses, food insecurity has become even more of a national concern. Individuals, families, seniors – many of whom are too proud to ask for assistance – need our help.
Just as food banks all across the country have been stepping into the breach to tackle this problem, so has our own Pocahontas County Family Resource Network, which has been in operation for 21 years.
For all of that time, Executive Director Laura Young has been capably at the helm.
“The FRN is considered ‘essential services’ so we have been working through COVID-19 to provide food, help with utilities and other assistance to our community,” Young said.
The only other two employees are Family Center Director Becky Campbell, who has been with the FRN for eight years, and Kendra Taylor, who has been Case Manager for one year.
In a normal month, the FRN Food Pantry served between 200 and 220 families.
Since the COVID-19 emergency, their numbers have doubled.
“In March, our food truck delivery was the day after the governor started to shut down West Virginia,” Campbell said.
“Snowshoe had closed down early, and we had a sudden increase to 386 families that month.
“The number of individuals normally served is around 840 per month, which averages out to about four people per household.
“Almost all of our clients have either small children or someone who is elderly living in the home,” she explained.
“Since COVID-19, our numbers have almost doubled.
“We served over 1,500 individuals in March.”
The large increase in March was due primarily to people being laid off from work with no clear direction as to when they might be called back.
“It was scary for a lot of our families, and our new clients,” Campbell continued.
“Not knowing when or if they would be receiving assistance, they were truly worried about where their next meal might come from.
“Our numbers in April were not as high as March, but still higher than normal.
“I’m pretty sure that they dropped a little in April because by then people had begun to receive unemployment and stimulus money,” Campbell said.
Eligibility to receive food at the monthly FRN food pantry is the same as DHHR eligibility, which is to say, that the individual or family’s income must fall within national poverty guidelines, and they must live in Pocahontas County.
For instance, a single person would be eligible for the program if their income is at or below $12,060 and a two person household would be eligible with an income at or below $16,420. For each additional person, the amount is increased.
For a family of four, the household income would be at or below $24,600 and a family of eight would be at or below $41,320.
“During regular operations, those who wish to sign up for the Food Pantry program need to bring in proof of income and a current utility bill,” Laura Young explained.
“We check to make sure they are income eligible and that they live in Pocahontas County.
“During COVID19 we are taking the information down ourselves,” Campbell said. “That way there’s no transferring of papers or writing utensils.”
“We recognized early on that the problems caused by COVID19 are too big for any one individual or agency to tackle and needs will vary widely by community and household,” Young said.
The community has always supported programs at the FRN, and even more so in these uncertain times.
“Jay Miller got the ball rolling early on, taking the lead and organizing a private fundraiser which included an impressive list of local donors,” Young said. “Then the county commission immediately donated $10,000 to the FRN COVID19 Relief Fund at Pendleton Community Bank. The United Way of the Greenbrier Valley and the Snowshoe Foundation also made large contributions.
“Community agencies, businesses, civic organizations and individuals have deposited directly into that bank account,” she added.
“Our neighbors step up to help every time we have a crisis,” Young said, emphatically. “We couldn’t do everything that needs done without their support.”
Young suggests that there are several ways for people to get involved and help in the fight to keep their communities going during this trying time.
“We can check on our neighbors and be an advocate for their needs,” Young suggested.
“There are many ways to volunteer from the safety of your home – such as sewing masks or conducting fund-raisers,” she added.
The Food Pantry is scheduled once a month, and is always the day following the arrival of the Mountaineer Food Bank truck.
A large portion of the food that FRN Food Pantry distributes to its clients comes from the Mountaineer Food Bank, located in Gassaway.
MFB is a central clearing house agency and serves over 450 agencies in the state.
“I can’t even begin to imagine how many pounds of food that they have donated to our county in the 10 years that I’ve worked with them,” Campbell said. “They are an amazing group of people and we are so grateful for everything that they have done and continue to do for our community. We are so blessed to have them as a partnering agency.”
When the MFB eighteen-wheeler pulls into Marlinton, the work begins.
And it’s not easy.
There’s someone operating a forklift, and lots of backbreaking listing, sorting, stacking and packing to do.
“On average, it takes about 10 volunteers to unload the Mountaineer Food Bank truck and pack everything for giveaway day,” Campbell explained. “We are lucky to have so many dedicated volunteers. And we try to keep the same volunteers on hand the next day during the giveaway, to keep that number to a minimum due to concerns about the virus.
“We continually sanitize throughout both days, and we have a drive-through for food pick up, keeping six feet away from our clients and each other.
“The clients stay in their cars and we load the items in their trunk. It’s very quick, easy and there’s absolutely no contact.
“On Food Pantry Day, we serve folks from 9 a.m. until noon and from 1 to 3 p.m., or while supplies last.”
The FRN food pantry is located in the old Pocahontas Woods building at the upper end of Third Avenue in Marlinton.
“The food truck delivered May’s order on May 19 and on May 20, we handed out food to 243 families,” Campbell said. “But we will continue to provide food to families throughout May and the beginning of June until our next scheduled delivery and food pantry in mid-June.
“And we are currently working with Mountaineer Food Bank in hopes of setting up a mini-mobile pantry in the Green Bank area for some time the second week of June.
“This will be a smaller delivery and focused directly on that area of the county.
“At a later time, we will set up another mini-mobile for the Marlinton area, then, hopefully, with enough funding, we’ll be able to do one for Hillsboro after that.
“We’ll also continue to do “by appointment visits” to the food pantry if a family misses our giveaway date.”
“Many charities are experiencing an increase in the number of people being served at a time when their revenues are down,” Young pointed out.
“Food pantries, in particular, are suffering financially because of the virus.
“We are having a difficult time sourcing the food, and our prices have increased dramatically,” she explained.
“I’d like to encourage people to reach out to our local charities and ask how you can best support them.
“Here in Pocahontas County, we have so many people doing such great work right now. I am both proud and humbled to be a part of this community.
“We’ve always known it to be true, but this emergency has once again shown how generous people are.”
For the foreseeable future, families with the least ability to weather a financial storm, are being affected the most by this pandemic.
“Although we are all in the same storm, we are not in the same boat,” Young said.
There are several ways to donate to the FRN COVID-19 relief effort.
Take a donation to Pendleton Community Bank and drop it off at the drive-thru window and make sure to tell the teller that it is for the FRN COVID19 fund.
Mail a check to PCFRN, P.O. Box 3 Marlinton, WV 24954
Visit the Family Resource Network Facebook page. There is a link provided there where you can make online donations.
“We are here to help and want to let people know that they just need to reach out to us,” Campbell concluded.
To contact the FRN or set up a visit, call 304-799-6847, go to their Facebook page, or email firstname.lastname@example.org