Laura Dean Bennett
At this time of harvest, when so many of us are reaping the bounty of our gardens and food crops, it is sobering to consider that not everyone who lives in West Virginia has enough to eat. In fact, the statistics on hunger in the state are grim.
West Virginia suffers from a food insecurity rate of 15.3 percent. That means that more than 15 percent of people in West Virginia do not know from where their next meal will come.
Twenty-three counties are classified as either At-Risk or Distressed. These counties rank in the worst 25 percent of the nation’s counties, according to economic status indicators. Poverty is the number one influence on food security and hunger.
Many families struggle to access healthy, nutritious foods. These families live day-to-day, often having to choose between food and living expenses. Often those most affected by hunger are children and the elderly.
One in six West Virginians will need to visit a food pantry, soup kitchen or other feeding program. Some come because, although they are working, they have families to feed and just cannot make ends meet. Some come because they are unemployed. And then there are those who do not ask for help, but should. They are in need, but because of pride, will not seek help.
While they may go unnoticed to many of us, these people may be our neighbors, friends or family members. As September has been designated as Hunger Action Month, it seems a good time to take a moment to focus on what is being done to alleviate hunger in our communities and how we can help.
Through a sophisticated network of feeding programs and donors, Mountaineer Food Bank supplies more than 600 programs in 48 counties in West Virginia, including two food pantries here in Pocahontas County and our Meals in Wheels program, as well.
Centrally located in Gassaway, the Mountaineer Food Bank uses a state-of-the-art system to efficiently collect and deliver meat, produce, fruit, dry goods and canned goods to programs all over the state. They supply soup kitchens, food pantries, day care centers, shelters, after-school programs, “back pack” and senior citizen programs.
Established in 1981, the Mountaineer Food Bank is West Virginia’s largest supplier of food and personal products for people in need of emergency assistance. It is a charter member of Feeding America, a national organization dedicated to hunger relief.
Suffering severe cuts of its own funding, this year has been an especially challenging year for the Mountaineer Food Bank.
Each fall, the Mountaineer Food Bank partners with the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources to promote the Hunters Helping the Hungry program in West Virginia. Hunters that harvest a deer during the season can donate the meat to the food bank. After the hunter checks in the deer, they drop the deer off at a participating meat processor. There is no cost to the hunter and Mountaineer Food Bank will collect the venison from the meat processor for distribution to needy families.
To make a tax deductible contribution or for more information about the Mountaineer Food Bank, you may visit their website at mountaineerfoodbank.org or call them at 304-364-5518.
In Pocahontas County we have several organizations dedicated to helping those in need of food assistance. Because of these programs and the dedicated employees and volunteers who roll up their sleeves to keep the grants written, the donations coming in and the shelves stocked, we can honestly say that Pocahontas County is a community who cares.
The Family Resource Network, located in Marlinton in the first floor of the Community Care Building, across from the Opera House, operates its monthly Harvest House Food Pantry from 9 a.m. until noon and 1p.m. until 3:30 p.m. (or while supplies last) the last week of every month. Their next food pantry is scheduled to be held on September 30.
Becky Campbell, FRN Program Coordinator, says that The Harvest House Food Pantry serves more than 150 families every month. To qualify, applicants need only to be Pocahontas County residents whose income falls swithin federal poverty financial guidelines.
Much of the Harvest House food pantry supplies come in on a tractor trailer from Mountaineer Food Bank, which, due to their funding cutbacks, is often less than what was ordered to distribute to families who depend on this supplemental help.
“If it wasn’t for what we can purchase at such very low prices from the Mountaineer Food Bank, I don’t know how we’d be able to carry on with our food pantry,” Campbell said.
Anyone interested in applying for assistance, making a monetary donation or a donation of fresh fruit or produce to the food pantry may call Campbell at 304-799-6847. She stresses that volunteers and contributions are always welcome.
The Durbin Food Pantry, held in the basement of the Durbin Methodist Church, is held the first Friday of every month, from 9 a.m. until noon. Coordinator Joyce Varner says she has been overseeing the food pantry for about 15 years. She and her team of volunteers regularly see about 35 people at the food pantry, almost all of whom are elderly. Although they are well-staffed with volunteers, Varner says that donations are gratefully accepted.
The Marlinton Senior Center, serving Hillsboro and the Marlinton areas, and the Green Bank Senior Center, serving the northern end of the county, are the headquarters for Pocahontas County’s Meals on Wheels program.
This program, available to anyone over the age of 60 who is homebound and cannot make it to the Senior Center to have their noon meal. If they are able to travel but have no way to get to the center, transportation is provided by senior center vans. There is no means testing, meaning that income is not a factor in whether or not you qualify. Lunch is the only meal served by Meals On Wheels.
Knowing that a nutritious lunch will be delivered to homebound seniors makes is easier for caregivers who have a job and need to be away from home during the day. They can go to work each day knowing that their loved one will have lunch delivered to them.
Seniors are encouraged to come to the centers for socialization as well as for the noon meal.
Whether delivered to clients at home or served at the Senior Center, lunch is free to all, but donations are always welcome.
“The Pocahontas County Meals on Wheels program serves eighty to eighty five people a day and has several more on a waiting list,” Marlinton Site Coordinator Beth Auldrige said.
Twenty-seven percent of Meals On a Wheels’ budget is funded by the federal Older Americans Act, the rest of the budget is made up by state grants, the United Way, the Pocahontas County Commission and private donations.
Auldridge said money is particularly tight right now.
“The fiscal year of Meals on Wheels programs starts October 1,” she said. “Right now, this past year’s budget has been exhausted and the program is running strictly on donations.
“Our Meals on Wheels budget for the next year has been cut by $15,000. The state legislature indicating that they are trying to encourage seniors to come into the centers instead of being served meals at home. It’s good for the people’s physiological wellbeing.”
But, as Beth said, “They haven’t been here to Pocahontas County and seen some of the really remote locations where some of our folks live.”
Meals on Wheels depends heavily on the Mountaineer Food Bank, as well.
Anyone who would like to donate or volunteer should call Beth Auldridge at the Marlinton Senior Center 304-799-6337 or Green Bank Site Coordinator Sally Lovelace 304-456-5370. Applications to be accepted into the program are available by calling either senior center.
The Pocahontas Cooperative Parish Marlinton Food Pantry operates a food pantry for southern and central county residents. Although it is primarily a United Methodist Church-based organization, it receives donations and assistance from many other churches, organizations and individuals in the community.
The Parish Food Pantry is open every Thursday from 9 a.m. until noon, unless it is a day when schools have to be closed.
As a faith-based organization, the Parish Food Pantry has been gratified to not only be open every Thursday morning, but they also offer special assistance to those in need during the holidays – opening its doors to provide additional help for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.
Coordinator J.L. Clifton says that their budget is totally comprised of church contributions and private donations, with no federal or state government assistance whatsoever.
“That way, we do not have to require any paperwork,” Clifton said, “and we ask no questions of those applying for help other than their name, address and the number of people in the household.”
The Parish Food Pantry is open every Thursday from 9 a.m. until noon and assists approximately 150 to 200 families on a monthly basis. Donations of frozen meat, packaged foods or canned goods are always gratefully accepted.
“I got involved with the Parish Food Pantry when I found out that there are kids in our community whose only regular daily meal is provided at school. Like many here in Pocahontas County, I know that we are doing good work. We serve between 125 and 150 families each month. Our faith teaches that we are to care for those in need,” says Clifton.
Clifton says that the organization had a nutritionist review what they are giving to families to be sure that they are at least supplying a balanced nutritional group of foods, although, he said, “What we are giving these folks is strictly a supplemental amount of food. In most cases, it’s not enough to even live on for a week.”
Anyone in need of food assistance or interested in volunteering or donating to the Parish Food Pantry should contact Clifton at 304-651-6699 or come to the food pantry at 925 10th Avenue in Marlinton on Thursdays. In the case of possible snow days, people are asked to listen to local radio station WVMR for notices regarding closure.
I know that our community is full of good people who have always taken care of their neighbors. As we gather to celebrate a good harvest and our many blessings this fall, let’s not forget to support these programs that do so much to make life a little better for those who need our help here in Pocahontas County.