INSTITUTE, W.Va. — The United Food Operation’s food drive is getting close to nearly four decades of service to Kanawha and Putnam counties but 2019 could be its most important year yet.

The kickoff event to UFO’s 38th annual drive to deliver food was Friday afternoon in Institute, and with the current partial government shutdown, thousands of West Virginians could turn to the drive.

Joe Manchin

“Because the federal government shutdown is affecting food stamp distribution, West Virginia families, including children and the elderly, who are dependent on that assistance will need food pantries more than ever,” UFO Chair Elaine Harris said in a released statement. “And that makes our mission even more urgent.”

Dozens gathered at the event to support the organization’s mission, including U.S. Senator Joe Manchin. He pledged to donate his congressional salary during the government shutdown to food pantries.

“It’s awful,” he said about federal workers not being paid. “I am doing everything we can go this back. I am begging the president to declare an emergency and let’s get back to work. I am worried about the safety of our citizens. I am worried about the safety and security of our country. We have essential workers that some of those people can’t take off. It’s funny, you can’t take off but you can’t get paid.”

Manchin also told reporters that he would like to get legislation done that says any time there is a shutdown that every worker that gets laid off or furloughed will get back pay.

In a release by Manchin given out at the event, it says there are 315,408 West Virginians participating in the SNAP, or Food Stamp program, and if the shutdown continues into February, there may not be sufficient funds to provide full benefits for that month.

West Virginians being impacted by food stamps distribution and federal employees not being paid only adds to the thousands of people that are in need of food assistance and receive it from the UFO’s drive to 12 independent food pantries in the Kanawha Valley every year.

“Starting 38 years ago, that is a long time to last with volunteers,” Harris said. “The time goes by fast when you are trying to meet the needs of people in our communities.

“Having so many people here is a good example to others. It all has worked very, very well over the years. Having those people here that have contributed, truly making a difference it was truly humbling to see all these people.”

UFO honored the memory of WQBE radio personality Al Woody, who passed away in 2018. He, along with longtime show partner Jeff Jeffries, promoted UFO for nearly 20 years. UFO dedicated this year’s drive to Woody. Jeffries and Woody’s son Chris talked about Al’s life to service and have continued to volunteer with the drive.

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