CHARLESTON, WV — Since the closure of public schools in West Virginia in the middle of March, food distributions to students who rely on school meals have taken various forms in the Mountain State’s 55 counties.
The disparities are a problem for some food security advocates.
“When school is in session, West Virginia is a national leader making sure that West Virginia’s kids have access to breakfast and lunch,” said Seth DiStefano, policy outreach director for the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.
“When school is not in session, we really struggle.”
Food For All is a statewide coalition of individuals and organizations focused on the issue of food insecurity.
Two weeks ago, those with the organization sent a letter to Governor Jim Justice asking for streamlined action.
DiStefano said they had confirmation the letter was received but, as of Tuesday morning, there had been no other response.
Participating organizations included American Friends Service Committee, the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, Food Justice Lab, the WV Center for Resilient Communities, WV Food ER, Families Leading Change and Our Future West Virginia.
Their call was for a “clear directive” from Governor Justice for daily coordination and ongoing planning between government agencies, county leaders and community-based organizations on food distributions.
Concrete, readily-accessible and regularly-updated information on local feeding resources were needed, DiStefano argued, along with coordination of resources with the Office of Childhood Nutrition, local volunteers, food pantries and community organizations.
Currently, “To be sure, there are some good things, there are some positives, but there is also some room for improvement as far as coordination and communication on the county level to make sure all of West Virginia’s children are served,” DiStefano said.
He cited food distributions in Cabell County, Calhoun County and McDowell County as examples of well-run programs.
“We would like to see the Governor take the leadership to make sure all of West Virginia’s 55 counties are doing the same thing,” he said.
Officials with the state Department of Education said they were “not aware of any issues regarding meal distribution at this time.”
Last week, those with the DOE reported counties distributed 1.4 million meals to children.
This response was provided through the state Department of Education:
“When Governor Justice ordered the school closure he directed the WVDE and county school systems to continue to feed children. WVDE has assisted counties in developing a system to meet the needs of children over the course of the past several weeks. Most counties now distribute multi-day meal packs once each week to students who need them.”
All 55 counties, WVDE officials said, “have a system in place that can be sustained through the end of the school year.”