West Virginia soliciting donations to feed kids

RYAN QUINN | Gazette-Mail
State school officials publicized the awarding of grants to help feed kids during non-school days with an event Thursday outside the state Capitol, where attendees held open about a thousand bags so students in Capital High’s Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program could fill them for students in need.

State education officials publicized Thursday grants to eight organizations to help feed children during non-school days, when kids don’t have access to the free- and reduced-cost meal programs that are offered when classes are in session.

Now the state is requesting more donations from the public.

Samantha Snuffer-Reeves, a coordinator in the state Department of Education’s Office of Child Nutrition, said the Wal-Mart Foundation has provided $37,000, which was divided among eight organizations that are already helping feed kids during weekends, summer breaks, winter breaks, snow days and other off days.

The groups are Mountaineer Food Bank, Gassaway; Elk River Backpack Blessings, Pinch; Facing Hunger Foodbank, Huntington; Five Loaves and Two Fishes, McDowell County; the Huntington High School Food Pantry; The Family Center of Richwood; Mountaineer Boys and Girls Club, Morgantown; and the Berkeley County BackPack Program, Martinsburg.

“We decided to disseminate it to the best of the best, these are the people who know the ins and outs of feeding children outside of the school day, and they asked if we had any funds available, and it just so happened that we did,” Snuffer-Reeves said. She said the goal is to continue to award grants to eight separate organizations twice a year — eight for the winter months and eight for the summer months.

West Virginia lawmakers passed the Feed to Achieve Act in 2013. Among other things, the legislation requires all schools to allow students to eat breakfast during the first 10 to 15 minutes of school, after first period or from “grab-and-go” prepackaged bags — or some combination of those three strategies.

The Food Research and Action Center, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group, ranked West Virginia No. 1 in the U.S. for breakfast participation in the 2014-15 school year. It credited that ranking to the Feed to Achieve Act and West Virginia’s wide use of the federal Community Eligibility Provision, which allows entire schools or whole school systems to receive federal reimbursements to serve free meals to all students, needy or not, if at least 40 percent of their students are deemed eligible for free meals.

Snuffer-Reeves, Feed to Achieve’s program coordinator, said increasing in-school breakfast participation was the first phase of the Feed to Achieve effort, while soliciting further grants and more donations from the public is the second phase.

“Phase 2 is making sure they’re fed outside of the school day,” she said. “... We have television commercials, radio commercials, billboards coming about to spread and build awareness.”

Mountaineer Food Bank Executive Director Chad Morrison said his agency — which serves 48 out of the state’s 55 counties — received $5,000 from the Wal-Mart Foundation.

He said the money is partly being used to provide backpacks of food to Kanawha’s George C. Weimer and Midland Trail elementary school students. He said the money also helped start school-based food pantries in Braxton and Nicholas counties, and such pantries have since expanded to Harrison and Hampshire counties and are planned to enter Clay, McDowell and Webster counties.

Morrison said the pantries are geared toward high school students and meant to help them get over fears of asking for help. He noted backpack programs that send kids home with food over the weekends often exist for students when they’re young, but aren’t available when they grow up.

“Their situation hasn’t changed,” Morrison said, “other than they just moved to a different school.”

Feed to Achieve accepts credit card donations at its website, www.wvfeedtoachieve.com. You can also send cash or check donations to: West Virginia Feed to Achieve, Building 6, Room 248, 1900 Kanawha Blvd. E., Charleston, WV 25305.

Snuffer-Reeves said 100 percent of donations go to the organizations that receive grants, with no amount deducted by the state education department to pay administrative costs.

Reach Ryan Quinn at ryan.quinn@wvgazettemail.com, facebook.com/ryanedwinquinn, 304-348-1254 or follow @RyanEQuinn on Twitter.

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