West Virginians have a lot of work to do to make the Mountain State the “Almost Heaven” it aspires to be. Despite decades of status as an energy exporting state, West Virginia is not doing well in household income and quality of life. According to the U.S. Census, about 18.5 percent of West Virginians lived below the poverty line in 2013 – an increase from 2012 and near the bottom in the U.S.
A recent Gallup report rated the Mountain State as the least desirable place to live in the U.S.
These are hard times for West Virginia, but the volunteers and workers at the Family Resource Network (FRN) are leading by example to make Pocahontas County a better place for families. The FRN’s food assistance and child-rearing assistance programs make it possible for low-income children and families to lead healthy and productive lives.
The FRN operates under the direction of a 12-member board of directors that includes service providers and family representatives. Vicky Terry is the President, Roger Trusler is the VP, Debra Walton is the Secretary and Elizabeth Kelley is the Treasurer. Laura Young is the FRN Coordinator and has been with the the FRN since June 2008. FRN was incorporated as a 501c3 non-profit organization in 1999.
In an email, Young described FRN programs.
“We operate the Outreach and Education Center, better known as ‘The Family Center’ in Marlinton,” Young wrote. “Rebecca Campbell is the Program Manager for the Family Center and has been with the organization for two years. This program is funded by West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources and the Bureau of Children and Family. Community Care of Marlinton is a major partner and provides space and utility assistance for the Family Center.
“Family Center programs include information, resource, and referral assistance for service providers in and around Pocahontas County. We are fortunate to be able to offer programs for families with children, including a monthly “About Babies and Children” support group that provides educational seminars and diapers and wipes for the participants. We also have a program funded by the Snowshoe Foundation called “Snowshoe Cribs for Kids” that provides safe sleep options and car seats for needy families.”
Monthly food deliveries from Mountaineer Food Bank are divided between the FRN, Senior Citizens and Durbin Food Pantry. The FRN Food Pantry alone assists hundreds of families.
“We offer a monthly Harvest House Food Pantry that serves approximately 350 households,” Young wrote. “This program is 100 percent community supported and relies heavily upon local volunteers to unload trucks and distribute food. Mountaineer Food Bank in Gassaway provides thousands of pounds of fruit, vegetables, produce and bakery to us for a small delivery fee, and we are able to purchase high quality protein products from their warehouse.”
The Dominion Foundation, a program of Dominion Corporation, has provided more than $13,000 in the past two years for the purchase of meat products. Another major donor has been the health and fitness advocacy group Try This West Virginia.
On Monday and Tuesday, FRN volunteers unloaded the truck from Mountaineer Food Bank and prepared food packages for distribution.
“I don’t know what the statistics are but a very high percentage of our citizens in Pocahontas County are below the poverty line,” said FRN board member and volunteer Laura Dean Bennett. “A lot of our families are hungry and that’s why I do this work. There are lots of things we can do to help out. There’s ways that we can pitch in and this is what I do. There’s a lot of wonderful projects that the FRN can point people to if they want to get involved.”
Lisa and Randy Bibb, of Marlinton, help to unload the truck every month. Randy Bibb said more help is needed on heavy work days
“The FRN is here to help out the community and it would be nice if other people would come out and try to do the same and help us when we’re short-handed,” he said. “It makes me feel pretty good. It’s something that you do – it’s not something that somebody should have to ask you to do.”
Campbell said the FRN couldn’t function without volunteers.
“We have a good core group of about 20 volunteers,” she said. “They do everything from unloading trucks to boxing up produce and bagging up groceries. Some help out with our baby pantry classes and lots of different things. There’s a lot of need. Pocahontas County is not a very rich county. We have a lot of need for these services. It really warms my heart to be able to help so many people and see these volunteers show up to help.”
Campbell singled out Kenny Mallow, Paul Arbogast and Steve Mick for special praise for their volunteer work.
“We can always use volunteers,” Campbell said. “There are times of the year when we are extremely busy. Our Food Pantry is once a month – those are days when we really need the help.”
Anyone interested in volunteering with a FRN community service project can call Campbell at 304-799-6847.