Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for those struggling with food insecurity has continued to increase. Mountaineer Food Bank, West Virginia’s largest emergency food provider, has been providing immediate assistance to families and individuals facing uncertainty, including Jefferson, Morgan, and Berkeley counties.
In the year 2020, Mountaineer Food Bank conducted their Mobile Food Pantry twice per month to serve residents of Morgan County with an additional site located in the town of Paw Paw. According to Mountaineer Food Bank’s Director of Programs, the town of Paw Paw is considered a “food desert” meaning it lacks access to affordable and nutritious food. With grocery stores half an hour away and zero local emergency feeding programs, the food bank has focused on distributing food and providing immediate assistances to residents in that area.
In Morgan County alone, over 2,000 households received assistance from Mountaineer Food Bank in the year 2020. “While we’re centrally located in Gassaway, our organization has been feeding families, children, and veterans in the eastern panhandle through our programs,” said Laura Phillips, Director of Community Programs. “Many think of food insecurity being prevalent in the southern and central part of the state, but there’s a great need in the Eastern Panhandle as food insecurity continues to rise,” Phillips said.
There’s a common misconception that hunger in West Virginia is found in rural communities, but hunger is on the rise in the Eastern Panhandle despite being such a short distance from the Washington D.C metro area. For example, Mountaineer Food Bank partners with over thirty member food pantries, soup kitchens, and other feeding programs in the panhandle. Compared to the year 2019, the Food Bank’s member partners have reported serving over 9,000 additional households, and nearly 1.3 additional pounds of food was distributed to communities throughout the panhandle.
According to Martinsburg Union Rescue Mission, a member agency of Mountaineer Food Bank, the need is rising. “The numbers are increasing in the amount of community members we’re serving,” said Pastor Tim Guerino. From January to May of 2021, the Union Rescue Mission has served over 27,000 meals to the Martinsburg community. In addition, they offer lodging, clothing and shoe vouchers, employment programs, furniture and household vouchers, and programs for students, which has also had more participation.
Mountaineer Food Bank will continue to provide programming and food to partnered food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters in the Eastern Panhandle. While there’s still much work to be done, the food bank believes getting more people involved in these communities will help fight the increasing need. To get involved or to make a donation please visit www.mountaineerfoodbank.org .