For far too many of our neighbors, the question of where their next meal is coming from or when they will eat again, there is not an easy or immediate answer. With more than 200,000 West Virginians facing food insecurity, continued rises in need for food assistance, and skyrocketing food costs – we must act collectively to tackle hunger in the Mountain State. Mountaineer Food Bank and Facing Hunger Food Bank, our state’s two Feeding America food banks, will host the 5th Annual Hunger Free West Virginia Day at the Legislature on January 26th. We know we can’t fix a problem people don’t know about. Hunger is difficult to see but it is peppered throughout our hills. Together, we can help our neighbors move beyond hunger, and the need to act has never been greater. Every day at Mountaineer Food Bank, we meet new West Virginians struggling with food insecurity. The new faces we see often have a similar story: their dollars can’t keep up with food prices despite being hard-working folks. Nationwide, families are spending 10 percent more on groceries and 13.7 percent more for crucial proteins such as meats, fish, poultry, and eggs, according to the Consumer Price Index. At the same time, food banks are feeling the crunch, too. Across the Feeding America network comprised of 200 food banks, food banks are spending 40 percent more on food. For example, the cost of a truckload of peanut butter in 2020 was $34,000. In 2022, the price for peanut butter, that is often seen as a low-cost, well-liked protein supplement, increase to $40,000.
In 2021, Mountaineer Food Bank spent $1.5 million to purchase food compared to $4.6 million in 2022. At MFB, we are committed to finding solutions to both shorten the line and feed the line. At Mountaineer Food Bank, we are proud to have provided more than 1.4 million meals to seniors; served over 63,000 meals to children; connected West Virginia veterans with more than 390,000 meals; and overall distributed over 21 million pounds of food across our 48-county service area but we can’t do it alone.
Last year, legislators passed a bill to double the farm-to-food bank tax credit, which opened additional opportunities for small agriculture businesses by now having a guaranteed buyer; provided a more robust offering of nutritional items for hungry neighbors; and lowered food bank’s cost by being able to source food closer to home.
We hope the Legislature continues its efforts to champion innovative policies that help West Virginia farmers, food banks, and hungry West Virginians; works with the charitable food network to create the critical emergency food infrastructure the COVID-19 pandemic showed us we so sorely lack; take a bold stance to fight veteran hunger; protect the federal nutrition programs that help our hungry neighbors, especially kids and seniors; and maintain the Community Food Program budget that provides $1 million from the state to the two food banks.
Together, we can end hunger in West Virginia.
Caitlin Cook serves as Mountaineer Food Bank’s Director of Advocacy and Public Policy