OAK HILL, WV (WOAY)- Feeding at-risk children when Fayette County schools are closed is the mission of a program announced today by the Oak Hill Kroger.
Kroger has donated $10,000 to begin the program, which will be implemented by the United Way of Southern West Virginia, the Fayette County Health Department and three faith-based community organizations.
Warm Hands from Warm Hearts of Oak Hill, Lovers Leap Baptist Church of Ansted and Kilsyth Baptist of Mount Hope will lead the implementation of the program working with the United Way and the Health Department.
The program will begin the first day schools are closed, regardless of whether the cancellation is scheduled. “All students in Fayette County receive free breakfast and lunch on school days,” said Teri Harlan, administrator of the County Health Department, “but do those children who don’t have food at home get fed when school is closed?”
“We researched that question with a variety of community partners,” said Michelle Rotellini, executive director of the United Way. “We found there is a need, and our team helped create the plan.”
The team has targeted children in Mount Hope and Ansted to give them food when school is closed. Those communities were targeted because of the existing need.
“Utilizing these community faith-based organizations that are already implementing similar programs, we will provide ‘boots on the ground’ volunteers to deliver brown bag ‘to go’ meals to to children when they are not in school and unable to receive the nutritious food they regularly receive from their school feeding programs,” said Rotellini.
The program will feed the at-risk children in Mount Hope and Ansted in three ways:
1. Increasing weekend meal bags going home to children identified as in need, Distributing “grab and go” meal bags to students during planned and unplanned school closures, and Funding community meals while school is closed.
2. Feeding America reports the food insecurity rate (percentage of children who do not know where their next meal is coming from) is 21.6 percent in Fayette County. “The rate is higher in certain communities, including Mount Hope and Ansted,” said Harlan.
“We have to do something, so we start here and now, with a small beginning,” said Rotellini. “One of the goals of the United Way of Southern West Virginia is to reduce the percentage of children living with food insecurity from 25 to 15 percent,” said Rotellini. She hopes the program will be expanded in the future.
“We know children can’t concentrate in school when they are hungry and don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” said Harlan. “As Kroger puts it, ‘Meals Matter.’ Families who share meals together have children who do better in every aspect of their lives.”
3. Kroger’s $10,000 donation is part of its “Zero Hunger Zero Waste” initiative. “Kroger has a goal of ending hunger in the communities we serve by 2025,” said Matt Diederich, manager of the Oak Hill Kroger. “No family in a community we serve should ever go hungry.”
Speaking for the two churches and Warm Hands from Warms Hearts, Mike Bone, the founder, said he’s been made aware “through food pantries and outreach programs that there are children in areas of Fayette County who are not eating over the weekend. Adding in school closings makes this a more formidable challenge.”
Warm Hands served more than 6,000 children since its founding in 2013. The organization supports more than 200 families a week through its food and baby pantries, in addition to mobilizing volunteers to serve at a soup kitchen monthly.