Building on the foundation of feeding the hungry, food programs have always been a core piece of Catholic Charities West Virginia’s (CCWVa) work to fulfill its mission.
In recent years, the closures of grocery stores throughout Appalachia have led to limited access to fresh produce and other healthy whole foods for many West Virginians. These ‘food deserts’ are defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as “low-income census tracts where a substantial number or share of residents has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store.”
CCWVa’s unique approach to addressing this issue is through a Mobile Food Pantry – a van loaded with pantry foods that travels to remote areas to distribute food to individuals and families who qualify as low-income.
CCWVa’s Mobile Outreach travels to the West Virginia counties of Calhoun, Doddridge, Ritchie, Roane and Wirt. Within this specific area, poverty rates range between 15.0% and 20.9%. CCWVa clients in these areas have reported that they travel 40 miles or more across mountainous roads to reach a supermarket.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, procedures have been adapted to keep staff, volunteers and clients safe. Food pantry boxes are pre-packed and loaded into clients’ cars.
Tonya, a client from Wirt County, said:
“The COVID-19 virus led to a terrible time for my family. My husband lost his job as the company suspended operations. Money was extremely tight and the shelves were empty. We had very little food and very few resources to get more. I was in a panic.
Thankfully, the (Catholic Charities Mobile Outreach) coordinator called me to check on me and my family, and also to let me know that the food pantry would be giving away food on its regularly scheduled day. He also let me know where more food and resources were available. On the pantry day there was enough food available to feed my family for a week.
While other pantries were shut down or delayed, Catholic Charities continued to serve us as always. I will be eternally grateful.”
Doddridge County Commission, Parkersburg Area Community Foundation, Sisters Health Foundation and the United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley have all provided funding for the mobile food pantry consistently in recent years.
In addition to food distribution, the CCWVa Mobile Outreach also offers a variety of enrichment activities, including health insurance enrollment, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) enrollment, and cooking demonstrations.
By Katie Hinerman Klug, Catholic Charities West Virginia Marketing Communications Specialist