CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Summer Food Service Program in Mercer County is about the kids, not about him, says the recipient of the National Summer Food Champion Award.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recognized Dr. William White for his service during a ceremony Friday at the State Capitol.
“It’s very, very humbling,” White said. “I do this for kids, I don’t do this for me.”
White currently serves as the executive director of the Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs. He previously served as a member of the state Board of Education from 2010-2017.
He was the first-time sponsor of a Summer Food Service Program as his church in Bluefield. It was a six-week academic food program. Students learned subjects of math, science, language arts and reading, while taking breaks for breakfast and lunch. Free meals were served five days a week.
In one month alone White provided more than 1,000 free breakfasts and more than 1,000 free lunches to 55 students ages 6-13.
“Usually it takes years to build up to that. He just pulls all the resources together and he did it the very first year. It’s phenomenal,” said Diana Limbacher, deputy regional administrator for the USDA. “He not only was able to continue their education, but what’s critical is that he was able to feed the children.”
White said students need to have a full stomach before they can learn.
“It’s critical that we educate our kids, but we can’t educate our kids unless we feed them because they can’t come to any kind of environment where there is learning and be hungry because they’re focusing on being hungry instead of focusing on learning,” he said.
According to the state Department of Education, 63 percent of West Virginia students depend on free or reduced-priced meals. About 72 percent of students in Mercer County are eligible for those meals.
Limbacher said nationally, there are 29 million people who participate in the National School Lunch Program during the school year and only 3.6 million who help out with the program during the summer.
“We have a gap, so we need champions like Dr. White to reduce that gap, so we can reach more of those children during the summer when they’re not in school,” she said.
Nick Casey, chief of staff for the governor’s office, helped congratulate White on Friday. Governor Jim Justice offered these words in a news release:
“Dr. White is a real champion for the people,” said Governor Jim Justice. “His commitment to bettering West Virginia is undying and for him to be recognized today by the USDA for his work with our children in Mercer County is well deserved. Our children are our future and we must continue to nurture them and provide the best possible environment for them to grow and learn. I commend Dr. White for his outstanding work and I know he’ll continue to do great things for our kids and all West Virginians.”