Community plans food drive for students
PARKERSBURG — Community members and educators are collecting food and making plans on how to feed students during a statewide schools shutdown later this week.
The state’s teacher and service personnel unions announced Saturday they would initiate a work stoppage Thursday and Friday for West Virginia public schools. Public employees have been lobbying the state Legislature for higher pay and better benefits, saying increases to insurance premiums will eat away the smaller proposed raises and in some cases actually result in less take-home pay.
Many students rely on school meal programs, however, and some area residents have expressed concerns over how a work stoppage might affect the area’s most vulnerable youths.
Jeanne Peters is a volunteer helping coordinate a food drive for Wood County Schools students. The drive began Monday and will continue today.
Peters is on the steering committee for Our Children, Our Future, a statewide organization that undertakes projects to help raise children out of poverty. Peters said according to Wood County Schools Food and Nutrition Department, of the district’s 12,456 students, 6,800 qualify for free or reduced price meals, or about 54 percent of the student population.
Every middle and high school in the county has a food pantry, and more elementary schools are beginning to have them as well.
“Only four of our schools (in Wood County) have 40 percent or less of their students qualifying for free and reduced meals,” Peters said. “Some have as high as 76 percent. I think this is an opportunity to not only help, but to recognize that hunger in our community is very real and often invisible. That’s a huge need crying out that we just can’t see.”
Peters said donations can be dropped off from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. at The Gift Gallery of Vienna at 1515 Grand Central Ave. The food will be organized and distributed to food pantries at area schools.
“Our goal is to have the food into the schools Wednesday morning so that it can go home with the children Wednesday afternoon,” she said. “I can’t take credit for this. It’s a credit to a community that has so much giving and love.”
Peters said the food drive is not a commentary on the teachers and service personnel who are struggling for better wages and benefits
“I can only speak for me, but I believe educators are vital to creating a better future for this state. I completely support them,” she said. “I know teachers are some of the people reaching out and trying to make sure these students are taken care of while the teachers do what they have to do.”
Adena Barnette, president of the Jackson County Education Association and a member of the West Virginia Education Association executive committee, said a similar food drive and effort has been organized in Ripley through Snack Pack Jackson County, which provides take-home snacks for students on weekends.
Barnette said parents, community members and educators have jumped in to make sure children don’t go hungry while school is out.
“It takes a village to raise a community,” she said. “We’d already been in contact previously with different people and groups, ensuring that we can get food out to kids.”
In Jackson County, all elementary and middle school students receive free meals through a federal subsidy program. Barnette said the food drives are being organized to make sure the students are taken care of during the work stoppage.
She also said teachers and service personnel, as well as state education leaders, are trying to make sure everyone is ready for schools to close Thursday and Friday.
“We have tried to give parents a great deal of advance notice so they can prepare and arrange childcare,” Barnette said. “A lot of counties also are organizing bus trips for educators to come to Charleston Thursday and Friday. Even in this digital age, everyone needs time to prepare.”