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Members of Feeding Appalachia were selected as W.Va. Can't Wait Hometown Hero Feb. 28. / Photo courtesy Stephen Smith, W.Va. Can't Wait

Hunger can’t wait: Free Meals Appalachia dubbed Hometown Hero for its commitment to serving free meals on Saturdays

BUCKHANNON – A local organization dedicated to fighting hunger was named a WV Can’t Wait Hometown Hero.

Free Meals Appalachia was presented with a $2,000 check and the title of WV Can’t Wait Hometown Hero Feb. 28. The award was being distributed by co-chair of WV Can’t Wait Stephen Smith, who aims to acknowledge local organizations that are making positive differences in their communities.

Founding volunteer of Free Meals Appalachia Heather Schneider said they distribute food to the Upshur County community every second and fourth Saturday of the month at First Presbyterian Church of Buckhannon, located at 13 S. Locust Street. Future pickup days include the following Saturdays from 4-5 p.m.: March 12, March 26, April 9 and April 23, May 14 and May 28.

“We are focused on feeding people in our community, and we looked at what types of food resources are already available within the community before we decided what dates we wanted to do and how we wanted to start organizing,” Schneider said. “The weekends can be a black hole for free food access, so that’s why we settled on Saturdays.”

Schneider and fellow founding volunteer Thomas Burrows started Free Meals Appalachia in February 2021.

“We’ve been going about a year now and I would say we have at least 20 volunteers,” Schneider said. “Not everybody volunteers every Saturday, so we do still need help, but we have also gone from feeding 50 people at our first meal to now 175 people.”

Free Meals Appalachia has also worked with other local organizations like the Upshur Parish House and Salvation Army as well as out-of-state organizations like Celestial Manna in Maryland.

“First Presbyterian Church of Buckhannon has been great,” Schneider said. “It’s located right here on Main Street, and they have provided us free space and a spot to cook.”

What is served at each meal distribution event differs – from traditional biscuits-and-gravy to vegan dishes and even curry.

“On Saturday, there was a vegan meal, and we had a lot of people who have never tried vegan food and some who had never tried curry, so we did a creamy, coconut lentil curry over steamed jasmine rice with roasted carrots and onions, and then we always have a piece of fresh fruit with our meal, too,” Schneider said. “We’ve also done classic Appalachian comfort foods, like the meal that we did prior to this lentil curry was homemade sausage gravy over giant biscuit, and we had a piece of fresh fruit, so we try to get adventurous sometimes.”

Schneider said they haven’t conclusively decided what they will do with the $2,000, but a current plan is to purchase ingredients and some new cooking tools.

“One of the ways that we set this up logistically was to crowd-source all of the ingredients and supplies every time, so I create an ingredient and supply list post that goes up on social media and people sign up to donate,” Schneider said. “We always have a huge outpouring from the community and donations, so we’ve had no problem filling the list of needs to make one of these meals happen, but since the community has been so supportive, and I know some of these people consistently make it a choice in their life to donate to us regularly, I would like those folks to have a break from funding.”

Schneider stressed the importance of working together to take care of one another and how that has come to fruition through Feeding Appalachia.

“It takes community to feed community,” they said. “When we actionably work to help each other, we ARE capable of keeping each other fed, clothed, housed, and so much more. Thank you for your support, WV Can’t Wait and everyone helping to make these happen.”

More information about Free Meals Appalachia can be found on the Really Really Free Market Buckhannon, WV Facebook page. Those interested in volunteering with Free Meals Appalachia can email freemealsappalachia@protonmail.com.

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