Delegates hear hunger statistics, testimonies

Crystal Good/WVPAFrom right, Dels. Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell, Rodney Miller, D-Boone, and Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, welcomed the caucus and guests.

CHARLESTON — West Virginia has 270,000 people struggling with hunger each day.

That message was delivered to the Hunger Caucus, a bipartisan group from the West Virginia House of Delegates, which met this week at the West Virginia Legislature to address food insecurity issues.

Chad Morrison of Mountaineer Foodbank offered two uncomfortable statistics, stating that 270,000 people struggle with hunger daily in West Virginia and that his organization delivered 31 million pounds of fresh vegetables, fruit, dairy and meat to 600 feeding programs. He asked the Caucus to help build infrastructure and staffing that will continue food distribution.

The meeting took place on Hunger Free Day. Hunger Free Day is a day dedicated to informing legislators about the challenges and opportunities to feed the 1 in 5 children and 1 in 7 adults who are food insecure. This was the second year for the meeting.

Speakers included Josh Lohones, WVU Food Justice Lab; Angie Kerns, Midwest Foodbank; Seth DiStefano, WV Center on Budget and Policy; Cyndi Kirkhart, Facing Hunger Foodbank; Chad Morrison, Mountaineer Foodbank; Tina Persinger, Calhoun County Family Resource Network; Darlene Propst, Loaves and Fishes Food Bank; Spencer Moss, Food and Farm Coalition; Lauren Floyd of Coda Mountain Academy; Liz Brunello, American Friends Service Committee.

Del. Lovejoy gave appreciation to Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, and Sen. Beach, D-Monongalia, who attended.

Angi Kerns gave an emotional testimony about the stigma of hunger based on her experience and encouraged the committee to offer people in need “a hand up, not a handout.” She asked the Caucus to speak to a diversity of people in their communities about hunger.

Seth DiStefano said lawmakers have the opportunity to do a lot of things to increase food security and healthy food options for West Virginians this session. He gave insight and an overview of the federal Supplemental Food Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and its impact on West Virginia.

Tina Persinger acknowledged the foresight of Del. Lovejoy to organize the Caucus and said, “Multigenerational poverty in West Virginia must be dealt with by allowing children to focus on the future, not their stomachs.” She supported Gov. Justice in his promise to provide support for hunger issues and asked that the Caucus support initiatives for “enough.” She said, “We want enough food.”

Spencer Moss said the statewide Food For All Coalition addresses food insecurity and food access but also policy. She said the organization’s mission is to “show up under the dome and support each other.”

Josh Lohnes shared that the largest national lobbyist for SNAP is Walmart. He stated that public money from the federal SNAP budget is going to out-of-state retailers and hopes to foster a conversation around hunger as an extractive economy. He wants to encourage low-income people to spend their SNAP dollars with state and local retailers. He asked the Caucus to participate in the “Snap Challenge” and spend no more than $3.67 per person per day or $114 per month on food, the average West Virginia SNAP allotment.

Several speakers commented on the lack of transportation in rural areas and its impact on food distribution and urged attendees to volunteer at food pantries. Guest speakers encourage HB 2794. HB 2984 passed the House last year and speakers hope it will pass both houses this year.

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