PARKERSBURG - Members of the West Virginia State Senate Select Committee on Children and Poverty met with community members in Parkersburg Tuesday to discuss the state's new Feed to Achieve program.
State Senate Majority Leader John Unger II, D-Berkeley, said the meeting was to learn about concerns across the state about the program and combating childhood poverty.
Unger said the West Virginia Feed to Achieve Act is designed to do three things.
"It aligns the breakfasts and lunches so the children may have an opportunity to participate and is a way to drive up the participation of students," he said. "The second is to set up a public private partnership where people can donate money and the third is to work with the Department of Health and Human Resources and Department of Agriculture to set up school gardens."
During the meeting, which was more like a roundtable discussion, many issues related to child hunger were discussed.
One issue was how nutrition is one aspect of how to help children break from a cycle of poverty.
Unger said one statistic he learned from the meetings was the number of children exposed to drugs.
"One in five children born in West Virginia is born with drugs in their system," he said. "They are exposed to drugs before they cry for the first time. As the child grows up the parents don't provide because the parents are so strung out on drugs or they are neglecting the child."
Unger said the answer is not in not feeding the child because it is the parent's responsibility. He said the child comes to school hungry and not ready to learn.
"The child comes to school hungry and they can't learn," he said. "If the child is there and the child is hungry they can't maximize their fullest potential in learning."
Unger said many studies have been done to show how nutrition relates to learning.
"Do this experiment yourselves," he said. "Starting tomorrow only eat lunch for three days and don't eat anything over the weekend, come back Monday and tell me how you feel. Tell me if you have the energy, tell me if you have the attention, tell me if you are not in a little bit of a bad attitude."
Unger said a child feeling that way will act out.
"He just needs something to eat for goodness sakes," he said. "Do you punish the child to get to the parents and by punishing the child do you think the parents are going to change their behavior."
Unger said research shows the lack of nutrition impacts them way beyond childhood. He said from birth to 8 years of age when their neurons in the brain are formed they are inhibited because they are in the survival mode and cannot develop cognitive abilities.
Unger said the inspiration for the act came when his wife asked him to speak to her third-grade class about what a state senator does and how laws are made.
"I'm thinking this is a disaster; it's the most boring thing ever; you put adults to sleep; can you imagine third-graders who have a short attention span," he said.
Unger said he asked the children about two things they would change in their school. One said she would make recess longer and another said he would add another lunch.
He had them discuss it and he asked one child which he would support.
"I'm going to vote for the extra lunch so I can eat it so when I go home I won't eat mommy and daddy's food and my brother will have something to eat tonight."
Unger said he was floored by the answer. Unger said he learned many children in that class were in the same situation.
West Virginia Feed to Achieve was inspired by that little boy named Cyrile Ngassa. When the bill passed it was signed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin at the school with Cyrile beside him. Unger said Cyrile was given the pen Tomblin used.
"The little boy grabbed the pen and as he took the pen the governor asked him what will you be when you get older," he said. "Without missing a beat he said I'm going to be governor."