LOGAN, W.Va. – Nutritious breakfast and lunch meals are available daily for students during the school year through the local school system, but in some homes that have been especially impacted by West Virginia’s weakened economy, children may go hungry on weekends.
Representatives of Feeding America, a national network of food banks that fight against malnourishment in America, say that one in seven people in the Mountain State struggle with hunger; and 21 percent of all children in the state go to bed hungry on a recurrent basis, representing numbers as high as 128,000 students. Due to circumstances often initiated by the economic downturn in the coal industry, these families struggle to access healthy foods, and are having to make a choice between putting food on the table and paying basic living expenses. It’s the children who often suffer the most in such heartbreaking scenarios.
Compounding the problem in the southern section of the state is that Mingo and Logan Counties are two of the six counties West Virginia University Economist John Deskins recently identified as experiencing times similar to the Great Depression.
The LMAMH Buddy Pack program works in conjunction with the organization’s Intellectual Developmentally Disabled (ID/D) and the A.C.E.S. Customized Employment program to provide healthy weekend meals for select school-age children, distributed in various schools in Logan and Mingo Counties. The goal is to provide nutritious meals to an ever-growing number of students who are at-risk of going hungry during the weekend.
“Once we identify the need, we start working toward a solution. Each nourishing Buddy Pack is assembled and delivered weekly from our Logan or Chattaroy campus by ID/D volunteers and our support staff,” said Donna Cooke, CEO of LMAMH. “It’s a win-win platform, as our ID/D volunteers find great purpose in assisting area children through the Buddy Pack program.”
Currently the effort is providing weekend meals (2 meals per student) for over 230 students in Logan and Mingo County school systems; and, since the need continues to grow, LMAMH is hoping to expand efforts to provide more Buddy Packs to area kids. Each prepared bag of food is designed to fill a student’s backpack, to help sustain a child through the weekend—for both Saturday and Sunday—with assorted items including canned entrees, vegetables, fruits, juices, and snacks.
“It is simply upsetting once one knows the extent of the problem that exists here at home. We knew we had to continue to do something about it,” Ms. Cooke added. “Yet, in these difficult times, the Buddy Pack program can only be sustained by the public embracing the food distribution endeavor.” The local program operates through the kindnesses and generosity of local sponsors—community-minded businesses, churches, and civic organizations—and through the monetary and food donations from individuals who want to make a difference in the lives of others in the region.
Sandra Vance, LMAMH Children’s Services program manager, who is also the point of contact for the Buddy Pack program, said this is a program that is especially close to her heart.
“This year we are fortunate to be partnering with Save-A-Lot, Krogers, and local churches like Chapmanville United Baptist and others,” Sandra said. “Krogers has even set up a special box in the store designated for Buddy Pack food donations; Save-A-Lot has positioned baskets at the end of their counters, with Buddy Pack approved items on display, as well. Pizza Hut will be assisting us with fund-raising opportunities in the near future; and Logan Regional Medical Center has been so generous from the creation of the program. Besides the donations from businesses, private gifts also help make a big difference.
“Many of the students being assisted are from local homes where men and women—hardworking individuals, displaced miners, and citizens who are in crisis—have, for whatever reason, found themselves laid off or unemployed for the first time in their lives,” Sandra said. “It’s just painful to see the enormity of the problem, which currently is outweighing the availability of food resources.”
“The Buddy Pack program may be unique in that it serves local families without favoritism—targeting all who are experiencing issues of various kinds—from across the region,” Ms. Cooke added. All food distribution is discreetly distributed through the assistance of volunteers, teachers, and school administrators.
Beginning the first week of November, LMAMH will kick off a variety of fundraising activities so that the Buddy Pack program can not only continue, but hopefully grow in its distribution of food for children in need. Scheduled fund raising events for the effort include:
On Tuesday, Nov. 11th, a special Buddy Pack Hot Dog Sale will be held at the Logan County Courthouse Square, beginning in the morning hours through 2:00 p.m.; and, on the same day (Nov. 1), Buddy Pack representatives will also be available at a special donation table at Krogers at Holden in the afternoon to accept food and monetary donations for area children.
On Thursday, Nov. 3, Pizza Hut at Stollings will be assisting in a fundraising effort. LMAMH staff members will be participating as waiters and waitresses from 5:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. All tips received will be applied to the Buddy Pack program—and a Buddy Pack donation jar will also be available at the sales counter. Pizza Hut will also be donating a percentage of all sales during the period, as well.
On the afternoon of Friday, Nov. 4, representatives from the Buddy Pack program will be on hand to greet the public and accept much-needed food and monetary donations at Family Dollar at West Logan. The public is invited to attend any of these events.
On Thursday, Dec. 1st, Pizza Hut at Stollings will have a second Buddy Pack fundraiser, donating a portion of the evening sales, from 5:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., with LMAMH waitresses and waiters serving (and, again, all tips go to the program, too).
Civic organizations, churches, schools, businesses, or individuals wishing to make monetary and/or food donations, or volunteer their time to the Buddy Pack Campaign, may do so by contacting Sandra Vance at 304-792-7130 (Ext. 1005), at 174 LMAMH Road, Box 176, Logan, WV 25601; or calling the LMAMH Chattaroy office, (304) 235-2954 at 2954 Buffalo Creek Rd., Chattaroy, WV. A list of acceptable food items can be made available upon request. All donations are tax deductible.