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Cynthia Kirkhart

Cynthia Kirkhart

In his 2020 State of The State address, Gov. Jim Justice offered discussion and proposed the following support in his Executive Budget: ”… to commit a million dollars to create more food pantries, or be able to buy more food for people that are really out there and really hurting …. In addition to that, I want to take $2 million, 2 million additional dollars and go to the Department of Education and put that into their Backpack Program.” And he addressed senior hunger by proposing $3 million to supply more meals to the seniors “that are out there that are looking for just a warm meal and a kind voice.”

There are two food banks in the state of West Virginia and we are honored to have almost 650 member agencies (food pantries, soup kitchens, day care facilities, etc.) to provide hunger relief to over 270,000 souls in our great state. Through partnerships with the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, West Virginia Department of Education and the Bureau of Senior Services, we are able to provide emergency food assistance and hunger relief programs; weekend back packs of food for children; and we ensure that our seniors have enough food by offering support from pantries, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), along with the feeding programs provided through Senior Services Centers and Meals on Wheels.

While the needs of those seeking hunger relief have been present for a long time, the work to bring more support to those in need has also been occurring for many years and forwarded by many initiatives.

The food banks have been in operation since the early 1980s, and several years ago the food banks partnered with WV Foodlink/WVU Food Justice Lab to better address the needs of the food insecure. Last year, we enjoyed successful “Shared Table” legislation; the first Hunger Caucus spearheaded by Delegate Chad Lovejoy occurred during the legislative Session; and we also had our first Hunger Free WV Day at the Legislature.

This year, we had increasing support for many hunger relief initiatives and legislation, a much larger Hunger Caucus and Hunger Free WV Day brought hunger to the forefront of those legislating on behalf of those they serve. While there may be questions as to why support hasn’t been provided before or if there are political motives, the governor’s commitment means that the work of building the foundation for hunger relief for all in need will be lifted and able to provide the right food, to the right people, at the right time.

Those of us working in hunger relief rarely have the privilege of an opinion or second-guessing motive. Our work continues, and our efforts must be directed to secure resources and relief for those we serve. The support of the governor, and this legislature, is critical to the health and well-being of many of our most vulnerable citizens.

For families who are unemployed, underemployed or otherwise struggling, emergency food assistance expands their resources. If we are to break the cycle of multigenerational poverty, we must ensure that our children have enough to eat of the right foods to support their development of good physical health and great academic success. And finally, as our senior population has grown exponentially while so many are facing challenges they have not known before, the decisions they are required to make won’t have to include going without food.

As a daughter of West Virginia, and a servant to those in need, I am grateful for a state budget that supports the work of those of us serving in hunger relief, and funding that has arrived at the right time, for the right people to receive the right food. And to honor that commitment, we will continue to provide for those in need and provide the results for this funding to continue to support those we serve.

Cynthia D. Kirkhart is executive director of Facing Hunger Food Bank, a private, nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1983. Its service region includes 17 counties in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio.