For over twenty years I have worked with child poverty, family poverty, and homeless in the eastern panhandle. Billy, a year twelve old, who was out of school more than in the classroom, came to my office at least once each week asking for food for the family. Billy did not miss school because he wanted to, but because his mother sent him out into the community to beg food for the family. Lydia was one of six siblings who came to the weekly soup kitchen sponsored by the church. Sometimes she came with one or more of the siblings, sometime alone. She always came to the kitchen asking for take-out for the rest of the family. Marilyn, a teacher would call my office on average of once a month seeking food or financial assistance for a student in her class who never seemed to have enough to eat. The stories are numerous. Church and social workers could add many stories about the children and families with whom they work daily to provide food in the Eastern Panhandle. In a land of plenty, our children are hungry. In the Eastern Panhandle, many of our children and families are going without adequate food.
The issue is deeper than just adequate food. The problem, too often, is the availability and affordability of nutritional and healthy food. Many of our families, financially stressed, purchase foods that are high in fats, high in calories, and lacking healthy nutritional value. These are purchased most frequently because these products are the "sale items", the cheaper foods and the ones for which coupons can be applied. Healthy food is seldom on sale or reduced by coupons. It is significantly more expensive to eat healthy. The in-expensive, fatty, high caloric diet adds to health risk and obesity for our children and families.
Senator Unger's bill provides a legitimate, effective process using current funding and organization to increase the health of the children in our communities employing existing resources of local school systems. The narrow perspective of the Charleston Daily Mail's editorial on the "WV Feed to Achieve Act" (www.dailymail.com/Opinion/Editorials/201303280162 ) fails to understand that the school systems have in place the mechanisms and resources to teach our children how to eat healthy. The long range implications of this broader nutritional process are enormous. There is no doubt for me that my friends Billy and Lydia would have a better chance at adequate food and they would learn how to eat healthy. The call to action sounded by Senator Unger is deeply rooted in the Holy Scripture where we are all called to feed, without judgment, all God's children and to nurture each one toward healthy living.
This bill is not about "giving away" more food, it is about providing opportunity for our local school systems to do what we employ them to do---teach our children. In this case the educational challenge designed to provide physical, mental and emotional health. What greater task do we ask of our educators that to create healthy children.
There are many organizations, churches and individuals who are passionate about assisting the schools in providing healthy meals for children. The Combined Community Ministries of Berkeley and Jefferson counties is only one program that grows out of the compassion, hard work and commitment of local residents. It is a grass roots program born out of a deep and committed concern to holistically feed children. The WV Feed to Achieve provides a greater opportunity to for local citizens, churches and organizations to join with the school systems to provide healthy meals for children.
I encourage you in the House of Representatives to support this bill that will teach our children how to eat well, how to have school resources available to nourish their bodies as well as their minds, and to give them a chance for healthy living.
Dr. G. Edward Grove
Director of Resource Development
Habitat for Humanity of the Eastern Panhandle