CHARLESTON, W.Va. — For some children across West Virginia, days off from school means they will go hungry.
With the winter weather beginning and holidays here, the school systems around the state will have multiple days off.
The West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) is attacking the issue from many angles, with one holiday in the books and two more ahead, to make sure children across the state do not go hungry during this holiday season.
“We just want to make sure that we are working with community groups, teachers and everyone as much as possible to make sure students have access to meals while the schools are closed,” Amanda Harrison, the Executive Director of the Office of Child Nutrition at West Virginia Department of Education, said.
“The reality is, many of our students get their main source of nutrition from school breakfast and lunch.”
Harrison said all bases are being covered as some schools have their own food pantries now and run independent backpack programs. The WVDE works closely with Saving Hunger Food Bank and Mountaineer Food Bank to provide additional resources and food, as well. Students were home with food if needed during Thanksgiving break.
A federal program that the WVDE administers is the At-Risk Supper program. It provides resources and support for schools and non-profits to offer dinner to students. The program is supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The WVDE has received grants, financial support, and resources like the Shared Table initiative (HB 4487) that was passed during the last legislative session. The bill makes it easier to distribute unused school food to students in need.
“We realize there is not a one size fits all,” Harrison said. “But we definitely have a need in this state so we try to do what we can to make those connections to fill those gaps for the kids.”
Harrison added that anyone in the community can pitch in with food and hygiene products.
“The best thing people can do is contact their local county board of education,” she said. “Find out if there is a school-based food pantry that needs assistance. They may have the food portion covered but they may need volunteers, they may need bags, water, and different things like that to help make things happen for the kids.”
Each county in the state has a Childhood Nutrition Director that works as a main contact from the county to the WVDE.
According to the WVDE, more than 67 percent of West Virginia’s school-aged children receive free and reduced lunch.
The WVDE added that in some counties, studies show that 100 percent of the students receive free and reduced lunch, and even in the most prosperous districts of the state, at least one-third of the students receive free lunch.
“This is a great time of the year to get the community involved and let them know that there are kids right in their neighborhoods that need additional support,” Harrison said.
“We need to look out for them that they have what they need so they can grow and be healthy.”
Harrison noted that some schools will be sending food home over the holidays as front offices and guidance counselors in schools have been preparing. Schools have also been sending out information on free community meals in the area and how to keep up with announcements of events on social media.