Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Tight budgets, lack of summer programs leave more kids eating poorly in W.Va., new nonprofit newsroom reports

In West Virginia, tight budgets and lack of summer programs have left more children eating poorly. The state's "plan to feed out-of-work families relies on the state's cash-strapped nonprofits to fill in gaps in the system, including food distribution sites only accessible by vehicle and a two-hour pickup window in the middle of one workday for a week's worth of food," Amelia Ferrell Knisely reports for Mountain State Spotlight, the new investigative news nonprofit co-founded by award-winning reporter Ken Ward Jr. and affiliated with ProPublica. The story is the organization's first; it planned to start later this summer, but an editor wrote, "We found a story that couldn't wait."

The story comes on the heels of a recent Brookings Institution report that food insecurity is up, and that about 14 million children in the U.S. are eating less these days. According to Save the Children, one in five children in West Virginia are food insecure, Knisely reports.

"When Gov. Jim Justice mandated that schools close in March, schools and nonprofits jumped into action to make sure food was available to kids," Knisely reports. "School lots turned into drive-in feeding sites, bus drivers dropped off meal boxes to kids hidden in hollers, and the National Guard assisted in food handouts. State officials said they served a million meals to students in one month. Then summer arrived, and the number of food sites shrank. School systems with tight budgets couldn’t sustain as many feeding programs or pay bus drivers to deliver meals to isolated communities. Many summer camps and in-person tutoring programs, which typically help feed kids in summer, never opened because of covid-19."

Justice has not directly designated any of the $1.25 billion the state was allocated in federal relief funding on any food efforts, but localities getting funds can use them for food relief, Knisely reports.

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