Food backpacks going out across state ahead of planned teacher, school service worker walkouts

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Many West Virginia students won’t be getting the school meals they depend on during this week’s two-day statewide walkout for teachers and school service workers.

To help with that, many food banks and other organizations across the Mountain State are working to distribute additional food to the students who may be in danger of going hungry.

On Monday, volunteers worked at Huntington’s Facing Hunger Foodbank to pack up 700 backpacks with food to be distributed to students largely in Cabell County and Wayne County.

Suzanne Brady, FHFB director of development and communications, said that number is in addition to the 4,000 backpacks they average during a normal week to support member agencies including schools.

“It’s part of our daily fight here,” she told MetroNews.

“This will help at least give them breakfast, lunch and dinner on those two days plus, if they normally get a backpack from the school, they’ll have the food for the weekend.”

Similar steps are being taken in other counties.

In Berkeley County, for example, those with the Community Combined Ministries Kidz Power Packs organization plus parents, teachers and other community members packed 900 bags of food for students in Berkeley County and Jefferson County.

An existing backpack food system for students in Upshur County was also being added to for the walkout.

Backpacks are used to allow for discreet distribution of food.

Special meals for students were also being planned in various West Virginia communities.

The American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, the West Virginia Education Association and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association are organizing the statewide action for Feb. 22 and Feb. 23.

“Despite our best efforts to negotiate in good faith with leadership in the House and Senate and the Governor’s Office, we have not been able to make the progress needed to avoid further action,” union leaders have said.

School closure decisions due to the walkouts are up to each county superintendent and, as of Tuesday, most were opting to close and schedule makeup dates in May or June.

There are students across West Virginia who rely on the meals they get at school.

In the Huntington Tri-State, “One out of four children in our area are food insecure, meaning they don’t know where their next meal is coming from and the meals that they can count on are the free breakfasts and lunches in the schools,” Brady said.

“Two days when they unexpectedly won’t have that breakfast and lunch is a big deal.”

A donor provided many of the food items to fill the additional backpacks needed in Brady’s area due to the walkout.

Included were things like soup, tuna, peanut butter or canned pasta in pop-top cans for easy opening along with fruits and vegetables, breakfast items, snacks, two juices and self-stable milk.

Such food is something, Brady said, they provide all year.

“Spring Break, Christmas holidays, three-day weekends, summer breaks — we work day in and day out to make sure these children have a food source when they’re not in school,” she said.

The service area for the Facing Hunger Foodbank includes 17 counties in West Virginia along with eastern Kentucky and southeastern Ohio.

In addition to food support, efforts are underway in some counties to establish supplemental child care centers during the walkouts at schools.

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