Your Editorial on Good Friday, reducing the "West Virginia Feed to Achieve Act" to a sort of reckless food giveaway utilizing tax dollars, seems to ignore the crisis nature of so many young students' food needs and also to pass over a number of things said in the act. Certainly all the state senators, Republican and Democratic, voted for the act.
In testimony to the Senate committee originating the act, State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jim Phares implored the committee to pass the legislation, explaining that thousands of students in the Mountain State go hungry each day. This hunger stunts the growth of young brains, and distracts students from studies.
Congress has for many years seen an excellent use of the nation's funds in ensuring poor kids get adequate meals at school. In West Virginia, for various reasons, half of poor kids don't get the free meals granted them by Congress. The act seeks to remedy this. It also explicitly directs the State Board of Education to establish "guidelines for determining the eligibility of students for paid, free and reduced meals." This doesn't seem like the total food giveaway described in your editorial.
Spokespersons for the West Virginia business community such as Steve Roberts of the State Chamber of Commerce reacted very positively to the private-public partnership aspects of the act. Foundations based on such private-public partnerships have proven creative, valuable ways of nurturing cultural institutions and public parklands. The act looks to the partnerships to provide creative, valuable solutions to the hunger of our youngest, most vulnerable citizens.
The Senate committee heard testimony that many kids eat extra-heartily on Fridays, preparing for lean meals during the weekend, and on Monday, making up for the scarce weekend pickings. You are perhaps aware that already churches have partnered with public schools to provide weekend backpacks of food for such kids. The act explicitly looks to private-public partnerships to develop "nutrition programs that provide nutritious food for children to take home for weekend meals."
One could attribute the support of witnesses from the business community for the act to "wise as serpent" motivation: Students growing up stunted and distracted by hunger will not provide the skilled workforce needed in 21st century West Virginia. However, one could be allowed to surmise that the witnesses were also motivated by "gentle as doves" reasons: in this holy season we remember Jesus' love of children, and his identification with those who are hungry.
We trust a careful reading of the West Virginia Feed to Achieve Act and consideration of the testimony and facts which led to it, will cause a shift in your editorial stance.
Brian O'Donnell, S.J.
Exec. Sec. Catholic Conference of WV Wheeling
Exec. Director Catholic Charities WV Wheeling