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Mountaineer Food Bank 2 (copy)

Chad Morrison, executive director of the Mountaineer Food Bank, looks over his products.

Mountaineer Food Bank 2 (copy)

It’s fair to say that 2020 has been one of the most challenging and difficult years in recent memory. Into 2021 we continue to face a global public health pandemic, a subsequent and painful economic crisis, along with civil and social strife — and all against the backdrop of a recent presidential election.

As difficult and understandably distant as it may be to accept, a day will come when our lives will feel as if they’ve returned to some version of “normal.”

Restaurants will again be back to full capacity, travel restrictions will be lifted, and there will even be a time where Zoom and social distancing as we know them today will be very different.

But throughout this tough period and beyond, it’s important we recognize and take meaningful action to address the basic health and opportunity gaps uniquely exposed by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis in our country.

One of the issues most pressing here in West Virginia during the pandemic, and one many fellow West Virginians have unfortunately been aware pre-COVID, was accessing fresh, nutritious food.

The term “food insecurity” refers to measuring the lack of access a household has to enough food to live an active, healthy lifestyle, in addition to having a limited or uncertain amount of nutritional food sources, according to the nonprofit organization Feeding America.

The features that make West Virginia Wild and Wonderful — world-class waterways, stunning overlooks, an abundance of green space — also makes it difficult for rural families to regularly travel to grocery stores or markets.

As a result, food insecurity across West Virginia — especially for low-income and at-risk children, at no fault of theirs or their families — is a sustained challenge. Jobs have disappeared that may never return, creating a ripple effect on small businesses, their employees and the industries that rely on them.

There are more than a quarter of a million food insecure West Virginians across the state, according to Feeding America’s meal gap mapping program. Sadly, over 73,000 are children. This represents nearly one in every seven West Virginians, and about one in every five West Virginia children.

The state also has a nearly 14% food insecurity rate, which is higher than the national rate. Considering how small our state’s population is relative to the rest of the country, these numbers are staggering and unacceptable. Due to COVID-19, there have been increases by almost 25% across the state, leading to more families needing help.

Our organizations — Mountaineer Food Bank, which provides emergency food supplies to families in 48 of the state’s 55 counties, and Antero Resources, West Virginia’s leading natural gas producer — have seen firsthand how rapidly the rate of child hunger and food insecurity has spread across rural West Virginia, especially during COVID.

Given our shared commitment to positively impact and drive change, and to combat food insecurity, we’re taking even more concrete steps to win this fight.

With overwhelmingly local stakeholder support, we’re pleased to humbly take our collective efforts further by launching a focused and targeted campaign aimed at delivering results that better the lives of West Virginia families, children and entire communities.

The newly created Antero Foundation — Antero’s employee- and local contractor-led charitable arm — is partnering with Mountaineer Food Bank to support its annual “We’re Here” campaign. For its part, Antero has set a fundraising goal of $300,000 to support the food bank’s critical health, wellness and social service programs for families across the state. The Antero Foundation will match community donations, dollar for dollar, up to $150,000 to end hunger in WV. We currently stand at 63% of that goal and have decided to extend our two-month campaign through the month of January to help fulfill the needs of West Virginians.

To support your neighbors and get involved in the matching campaign, please make your donation by visiting Mountaineer Food Bank’s website https://bit.ly/anteromfb or The Antero Foundation website https://www.anteroresources.com/antero-foundation/mission.

No child or family should ever go to bed on an empty stomach. No parent should have to make the unthinkable decision between feeding one’s family and providing other essential household needs. While today’s issues dividing our country are great, eradicating hunger is a common ground that should and must unite us all.

Al Schopp is Chief Administrative Officer and Regional Senior Vice President of Antero Resources (anteroresources.com). Chad Morrison is Executive Director of Mountaineer Food Bank (mountaineerfoodbank.org). To learn more about West Virginia’s hunger crisis, and to help Antero reach their fundraising goal, visit https://bit.ly/anteromfb.