One in Four Are Food Insecure
One in four West Virginia children are food insecure, meaning they “lack consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These students rely on their schools to provide them with a nutritious breakfast and lunch, but often they must fend for themselves for dinner. While three out of four students look forward to weekends, snow days, and school breaks, these times are filled with worry for the 25 percent who are unsure if they will have enough food to last them until they go back to school. This is a tragedy. Children cannot effectively learn when their stomachs are empty and their brains do not have the nutrition and energy to work properly. It is unrealistic and unfair to expect a hungry child to learn.
Realizing the severity of this issue, the West Virginia Legislature passed the “Shared Table” initiative, and just last month, the West Virginia Department of Education adopted a policy to comply with this law. The “Shared Table” initiative allows schools to give excess food to students who wish to take it home and is a sensible solution to get healthy food gets into the hands of students rather than being thrown away at the end of the school day.
In addition to this new policy, the state department of education has awarded grants to help schools provide food to students in need. Debbie Derico, Child Nutrition Director for Marshall County Schools said that this year, Marshall County received $21,000 in funding to help set up or expand food backpack programs at John Marshall and Cameron High Schools, and Cameron Elementary School.
In Ohio and Marshall Counties combined, there are roughly 1,000 students who are considered food insecure.
“As a community it is important to recognize we have children right here in our local area who do not have access to nutritious foods when not in school. Hungry children cannot learn and cannot thrive and that is why it is necessary to help in any way possible,” said Renee Griffin, Ohio County Schools Director of Child Nutrition and Wellness.
Luckily, for years, schools, churches, and community organizations have been working diligently and quietly to ensure no child goes hungry. Working in partnership, schools and community churches and organizations have collaborated to secure, pack, and distribute food to students in need.
“Many students have limited access to food over the weekend, let alone nutritious food items. The backpack program allows students to carry home healthy food to fill the gap between Friday afternoon and Monday morning. Our community and schools are taking notice and with compassion are willing to help,” said Derico.
Trying to organize and fund regular distribution of food to 1,000 students in Ohio and Marshall counties is no easy feat, but there are a dedicated few who are making it happen. Several organizations have made it their mission to help feed our children, such as the Marshall County Family Resource Network, Wheeling Elks, A&B Kia, The House of the Carpenter, and Christ United Methodist, HOPE, and Moundsville Baptist Churches to name a few. Their work goes mostly unnoticed in our communities. I’m ashamed to admit I had no idea the problem of childhood hunger was such a huge problem in our own backyard. How wrong I was.
Elizabeth Pernell, Past Exalted Ruler of Wheeling Elks Lodge No. 28, set me straight. She called me a few weeks ago to ask if John Marshall’s National Honor Society students would help package food for Center McMechen and Ritchie Elementary School students. Pernell was quick to point out that her lodge was just one of numerous area organizations working to ease childhood hunger. I applaud all those who are helping feed our students and encourage others who want to get involved to contact their local schools to see how they can help. In a country as prosperous as ours, no child should go hungry.
Jonna Kuskey is an English teacher at John Marshall High School. She was named the 2017 James Moffett Award winner by the National Council of Teachers of English and the third place winner of the 2017 Penguin Random House Foundation Teacher Awards for Literacy.