FAYETTEVILLE — Dozens of teachers, service personnel and community volunteers stood together Tuesday as they packed school buses full of food to be delivered to communities throughout Fayette County on the fourth day of a statewide walkout within the school system.
"The moment we heard about a teacher strike, we quickly realized it was important to gather food for the kids," Cindy Chamberlin said, "and from that thought, things quickly began to snowball from there."
Chamberlin, a physical therapist in Clay County Schools whose husband is in the Fayette County school system, said disaster relief has always been something she has a had a passion for, and once her friends who work with the Nolachucky Baptist Association told her they had were getting extra pallets from the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA), she saw an opportunity and didn't hesitate to take it.
The food from FEMA was shipped to both Texas and Florida after the fall after hurricanes swept through, and Chamberlin said the food was going to be destroyed because no one wanted it.
Chamberlin explained their small community was able to raise $480 within 24 hours to cover shipping costs to get the food shipped to Tennessee, where volunteers went to pick it up.
On Monday evening, nearly 10,000 meals were delivered for Fayette County to distribute to children throughout the community who take part in backpack programs where they receive food assistance. The food was then packed onto school buses, and bus drivers drove their normal routes to distribute it.
Fayette bus driver Terry Frazier said it was important to him to take part in the food distribution because, although he supports the walkout, students are getting deprived.
"I mean what better person to deliver the food than someone who knows the routes and where the food is needed?," Frazier asked. "It's something I think the kids really need and I feel they will really appreciate it."
Frazier said he wishes teachers and school service personnel were able to go back to school. "I'm fighting for a change though," he added. "So many bus drivers like myself have to work three jobs to make ends meet, and if changes were made to PEIA then that may not be necessary.
"If we could just get something fixed then we could be back in school with our students where we belong, but for now we're helping them in any way we can."
Valley Elementary School Principal Melissa Harrah was one of the many members who packed up food bright and early Tuesday morning. She said at her school, there are about 50 students who take part in a food assistance backpack program.
"I think doing this today will give those 50 students and several other students a little boost," Harrah said. "I know they will really appreciate it."
She said their efforts show the hearts of teachers while they always put their students first.
"This is a tough situation we are in, but we maintain that we continue to keep our students first and we are really proud to say we are doing just that."
Chamberlin explained those who are complaining about teachers depriving students of education and food during the walkout don't know what teachers do on a regular basis. She said since the walkout was announced, she has seen teachers in tears over being so worried about their students.
Teachers needed that stress lifted off their shoulders, Chamberlin said, and she took the opportunity to take that away from them.
"We are 48th it the nation for pay and 49th educationally," she said. "It's clear many don't value education in the state of West Virginia, and something has to change.
"At the end of the day, I haven't seen one delegate, representative or any government official walk in here and offer to help, but I've had over 100 community volunteers, teachers and school personnel here, so people need to think about that."
Chamberlin reported towards the end of the week, the meals not distributed during Tuesday's efforts will be packed up and served to students in middle and high school who do not have food backpack programs.
"That way, any student who is hungry can go to those schools and access a meal."
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