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Catholic Charities Improves Access to Healthy Foods in Food Deserts

The CCWVa Mobile Food Pantry distributes around 115,705 pounds of food to approximately 275 households every month.

A quick run to the grocery store is an errand no longer possible in many rural areas of West Virginia.

“It’s all closed. There’s nothing near us no more,” said Roger Kline, a resident of Ritchie County, WV.

Kline and his family live in an area classified as a “food desert” by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA defines a food desert as “a low-income tract where a substantial number of residents does not have easy access to a supermarket or large grocery store.”

To address the needs of low-income families in rural and isolated communities, Catholic Charities West Virginia (CCWVa) created a Mobile Food Pantry – a mobile outreach van that travels to remote areas. In addition to providing food, the Mobile Food Pantry also provides nutritional and educational information as well as support and further resources.

The Mobile Food Pantry operates in Calhoun, Doddridge, Ritchie, Roane and Wirt Counties. The poverty rate in these counties ranges from 15.7% to 21.7%.

“The majority of our clients live more than 40 miles from a supermarket,” said Beth Zarate, CCWVa President and CEO. “They’re traveling mountainous roads, in some cases with multiple families sharing a single car.”

In addition to limited access to food, the higher prices of healthier foods often leave low-income families with little choice but to purchase cheaper foods high in sugar, trans-fat and refined grains.

The CCWVa Mobile Food Pantry distributions take place monthly at local community centers and churches with on-site support from volunteers.

After 10 years of operating the Mobile Food Pantry from a cargo van, the CCWVa team set a goal of purchasing a refrigerated box truck to provide access to fresh produce, dairy products, frozen meats and other healthy foods.

“A larger, refrigerated truck not only enables us to provide a greater variety of nutritious items, it also allows us to expand our outreach to Jackson and Clay Counties,” said Zarate.

Through support from the Sisters Health Foundation, the Bernard McDonough Foundation, the Parkersburg Area Community Foundation, and Humana, CCWVa was able to purchase the new vehicle.

“We’re thrilled to be able to take our program one step further in increasing access to healthy foods,” said Zarate.

“This pantry – it’s a blessing,” said Kline. “You know… sometimes you pay your bills and there’s nothing left to buy food… and there’s really nothing left to buy gas to drive [40 miles to the grocery store]. I’m working… but it’s just hard. What you all [CCWVa] do… it’s a real blessing.”

By Katie Hinerman Klug, CCWVa Marketing Communications Specialist

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