Pictured, from left, are Buckhannon-Upshur High School football players Ryan Strader and Tyler Loudin and Benji Mooney with the Opportunity House.

Bank on it: West Virginia agency addressing hunger in food-insecure areas, including Upshur County

BUCKHANNON – For families struggling to make ends meet, Thursday’s mobile food pantry at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School Thursday was a godsend.

Distributing healthy, fresh food in areas where financial woes aren’t uncommon and food insecurity is relatively common is exactly what Mountaineer Food Bank does, mobile pantry coordinator with Mountaineer Food Bank, Katie Chriswell, said Thursday.

Traffic control was needed to monitor the congestion on Route 20 that resulted from dozens of vehicles pulling into the middle school parking lot, where the mobile food bank was set up.

“This is a mobile pantry, so Mountaineer Food Bank brings the product – the food – these today are USDA commodities under the TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program), so Mountaineer Food Bank brings them into a community, and then we get volunteers throughout the community to help distribute food to people in the community,” Chriswell said.

On Thursday, those volunteers happened to be Buckhannon-Upshur High School football players with head coach Duane Stoeckle and volunteers from the Opportunity House accompanied by executive director Matt Kerner.

Chicken, milk, peaches, plums, oranges, dried cranberries and chickpeas were among the farm-fresh offerings.

Chriswell said Mountaineer Food Bank mobile pantries may travel to communitites as often as every two weeks or as infrequently as just once a year. Thursday’s was set up from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. And although there are income qualifications, drivers traveling through the mobile pantry weren’t asked to provide proof of income or any other documentation.

“There are income guidelines, and they are a self-declaration that you fall within the guidelines,” Chriswell explained. “We do not ask for any kind of proof.” Guidelines depend on income and family size, and households must fall within 130 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.

For example, for a household of four people, annual income must be at or under $33,475. (Additional guidelines are available by clicking here.)

Chriswell said mobile pantries are an efficient, effective way to feed a community where hunger is widespread.

“The mobile pantry is wonderful because it is able to reach food-insecure areas that don’t necessarily have a food pantry that they can go to monthly or every other week,” she said. “It’s a lot easier to reach people, and it’s quicker, and there’s usually a lot more people than you would see at your normal pantry.”

Mountaineer Food Bank gets the word out about where the mobile pantry is headed next via news articles and robo-calls to students’ homes.

“We also advertise it on our Mountaineer Food Bank Facebook, and it’s great. It benefits everyone,” she said. “It benefits us because we get to be out in the community, and we get football players and we have a group with Opportunity House, so they’re getting community service hours, and then of course, you’re helping the community because they’re getting their food.”

Pictured, from left, are B-UHS football players Cameron Ervin, Austin Watson and Hunter Cohen.

Each vehicle received an allotment based on family size packed into a personalized box.

“Aside from the chicken and the Wheat Thins, these are all USDA commodities, and of course, we do work with the West Virginia Department of Agriculture for this sort of thing,” Chriswell added.

Benji Mooney with the Opportunity House said he was glad to be out and about helping Thursday.

“I just like giving back to the community,” he said. “We do a lot of different things, we do these, we go help with moving stuff with the Literacy (Literacy Volunteers of Upshur County) program all the time.”

Read more about Mountaineer Food Bank’s feeding programs at https://www.mountaineerfoodbank.org/feeding-network.

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