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Kayla Bailey and Russ Bailey, owners of Multitude Foods, speak with Upshur County Board of Education members and explain how their business began, and how it is impacting the lives of students, businesses and residents of Upshur County. Upshur County Schools recently teamed up with Multitude Foods and FedEx to ship food boxes directly to the homes of distance learners who had issues with accessing five-day food boxes due to timing and transportation issues. / Photo courtesy Dr. Sara Stankus

How a Buckhannon business was born in 48 hours to fight child hunger amidst a pandemic

BUCKHANNON – Recently, Upshur County Schools announced they had teamed up with FedEx and local meal delivery company Multitude Foods to offer food shipments to full-time remote students – a move which helped lots of families help avoid some food insecurity.

While lots of folks were relieved with this solution to overcome the obstacles of lack of transportation, timing and other issues, many people also wondered, ‘What is Multitude Foods?’

The founders Multitude Foods spoke at the last Upshur County Board of Education meeting and explained how and why they started their business.

In their presentation, Russ and Kayla Bailey, owners of Multitude Foods, said their company started in late April.

“We got a call from Governor Jim Justice’s office who said they were spending millions upon millions of dollars through school systems out of state (for food),” Russ Bailey said. “They asked if we could help them.”

Bailey said as a veteran of the industry, he called some of his friends.

“And in 48 hours, we had a company,” Bailey said, adding he did not know what to call the company, and he did not know who would run this new company.

“Luckily, I have a daughter who was trying to finish MBA School at West Virginia University,” he said. “I was able to get her to come along with us and that is how Multitude Foods started.”

Bailey said he sports a passion for feeding people.

“I have done that my whole career,” he said, adding Multitude Foods was created ‘by West Virginians for West Virginians.’

Once they started the company, he said the first big issue in the first six weeks was labor.

“The governor took care of our labor issue – I received a call from General (James) Hoyer and for the first six weeks, we had the National Guard for labor,” Bailey explained. “After that, we flipped it over to a private company and that is when we created Multitude Foods.”

Bailey said they wanted to give second chances to those who needed second chances – that was big for them, both on the economic side and the social side of it.

“I truly believe, that if we do not give people some second chances, we are going to be in a much worse place than we are today,” Bailey told BOE members. “So, what we did, by calling our friends in the industry – it allowed us to have a huge impact on that side of it and what we found out in moving our business to Upshur County, to Buckhannon, we were able to reach out to some of those people who need second chances and they have been a great resource for us also.”

Kayla Bailey said Multitude Foods works closely with the Drug Court Program in Buckhannon and said they have used folks nearing the end of the program.

“We have about five employees who are currently in recovery, and we try to create the best environment for them to be able to succeed,” Kayla Bailey said. “That is something that was super big for us as we took on this adventure. We have only been doing this for 10 months, but Upshur County Schools has been a large part of that and so have our employees.”

Russ Bailey said they use companies close to home to create their food boxes.

“We use a company called Marty’s Bakery (Rogers and Mazza’s Italian Bakery of Clarksburg) and they have been able to buy two brand new delivery vehicles in this time period,” he said. “The ham sandwiches – the ham comes from S.S. Logan Packing Company out of Huntington and the bun comes from Heiner’s (Bakery which is in Huntington, W.Va.) and it is assembled by Tasty Blend Foods, Inc., Teays Valley Biscuit Mixes out of Fraziers Bottom, W.Va. and the boxes come from Akers Packaging out of Huntington, W.Va. and A. F. Wendling does all of our transportation. Without Wendlings, this would not be possible.”

Russ Bailey said everyone on their payroll is Upshur County residents.

“We employ about 20 people from this area,” he said.

Russ Bailey said the first box of food they produced was one for Upshur County.

“You guys, this past week, surpassed a million meals that you have provided to your community through five-day boxes, three-day boxes and your backpack program,” he said. “That is a phenomenal number that you should be proud of.”

Kayla Bailey said food boxes in Upshur County have been shipped via FedEx for about two weeks.

“There were 290 boxes delivered to Upshur County students,” she said. “They are delivered within two days of production. We get our names and numbers on Friday, the boxes are packed on Monday and shipped to students on Tuesdays. It has been a streamlined process and a unique process.”

Kayla Bailey said she knows of one other county that has home delivered boxes and said that service is also provided by Multitude Foods.

“We have had great reviews,” she said. “People have enjoyed the food and they are thankful. It is an important part that students enjoy the food and will eat the food. We are proud of the work we have done.”

Russ Bailey said the company goal is to employ more people and to feed more students.

“We want to thank the Upshur County BOE for supporting us,” he said. “Second, none of this could be possible without our partner, A.F. Wendling Food Service. There is no one I would rather partner with as far as a can-do attitude and making it happen. It’s a blessing you have him in this area.”

He said he is also thankful for the help from the Drug Court.

“I truly believe if we do not give people second chances and if we do not help them get back on their feet, we have a bigger problem,” he said. “My goal is that you would not ever need me – I am probably the only businessperson who went into business that hopes his business goes out of business.”

Russ Bailey said in reality, that will probably not happen.

Also, during the BOE meeting, Director of Wellness and Nutrition Eddie Vincent said between Oct. 1, 2020 and Jan. 31, 2021, schools have served 7,277 snacks to students, 39,305 suppers, 196,646 breakfasts and 199,104 lunches.

“Many of the breakfasts and lunches have been served via the three- and five-day food boxes,” Vincent said. “Our total West Virginia pandemic reimbursement has been $3,687,304.85. Upshur County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Sara Stankus has made a priority for Upshur County to continue to feed our students throughout the pandemic. We have not missed a week since March 13, 2020.”

Vincent said a lot of work goes into that goal and said warehouse staff does food boxes every Wednesday. He said Multitude Foods has been a big part in helping make feeding students in Upshur County a reality.

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