Many students who depend on school meals will not have meals while schools are closed during the statewide school employee walkout Thursday and Friday.
In response, several churches, soup kitchens, school systems and other local organizations will be working to provide meals and take-home bags of food for students in Kanawha and Putnam counties.
In Kanawha County, information will be dispersed to students and families about local service providers that will provide food for students during the walkout, school spokeswoman Briana Warner said in an email. The school system will also donate food items that could spoil while schools are closed to the Manna Meal soup kitchen in Charleston.
“It would be minimal, but could be helpful to serve a larger need during this time,” Warner said.
Stella Young, the child nutrition director for Putnam County Schools said most schools in the county have backpack programs that supply students in need with food for the weekend.
“Schools are probably going to send home items with students on Wednesday this week since they will not be in school after that, just like they do on a long weekend that includes holidays,” she said in an email.
Young said Putnam County received a student hunger grant this year, which gave each school $250 to purchase extra shelf-stable snacks to aide their backpack programs. All five county elementary schools also received an additional $200 grant, she said, as an “emergency mini hunger grant” to help supply food when schools are out for longer periods of time in the winter weather.
Tara Martinez, the executive director of Manna Meal, said she is working to compile a list of service providers for children to be distributed to schools throughout the county Wednesday.
Martinez said Manna Meal is reminding community members that all are welcome to the soup kitchen for breakfast and lunch — no questions asked.
“We aren’t doing anything differently,” she said. “We feed people 365 days a year. And we wanted to make sure — especially in Kanawha County — that anyone that needed to bring their kids here because they may depend on their school lunches and breakfast, they are welcome here.”
Martinez said she hopes the resource list and serving meals will better connect children to food not just during the walkout, but any time there is no school.
“I’m hoping this will keep [people] better informed of what activities are out there, whenever there is no school. During spring break and summer, we have the same thing. I want people to be aware that we need this as an ongoing effort. All summer long, kids may be not knowing where to get a meal,” she said. “We hope that kids aren’t going hungry during the four-day spell when they’re off. But it happens every day when there’s no school. We as a community need to be very cognizant of that.”
Mt. Juliet United Methodist Church in Belle will also be holding a free lunch for students of all ages from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday and Friday. Lunch, games and activities, and sandwiches to-go will be offered at the church on East 4th Street in Belle. Questions can be directed to Rev. Darick Biondi by emailing email@example.com.
On Charleston’s West Side, families can pick up bags of food for their children on Wednesday and Thursday evenings at Grace Bible Church and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation on Kanawha Boulevard West.
Several backpack programs also announced plans to provide food for their students earlier in the week to ensure they would have food while many schools are closed, said Cathy Kunkel, an organizer in Kanawha County.
Posts on social media also called for community members statewide to call their local board offices to learn how to make a donation to help get food to students during the walkout.
Several other school districts in the Eastern Panhandle, North Central West Virginia and the southern part of the state announced similar plans to feed students as of Tuesday afternoon, media outlets reported.
Union leaders announced the walkout during a rally at the Capitol Saturday in front of hundreds of teachers and school employees. The announcement followed weeks of growing tension between public employees, educators and the state Legislature regarding concerns with pay and health care.