Facing Hunger Foodbank

One organization in our area is making lives better.

Founded in 1983, the Facing Hunger Foodbank serves 17 counties in the Tri-State: 12 in West Virginia, four in Kentucky and one in Lawrence County, Ohio. The foodbank provides nutritious fresh, canned, boxed, frozen, and prepared food to nearly 118,000 local individuals on an annual basis.

When items are donated or purchased and arrive at the foodbank, the warehouse staff inspects the items for quality. Then, they sort and repack the items according to their internal system. Finally, the items are distributed to member agencies, including local food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, schools, backpack programs, and more. The food then reaches the people in need, with the aim to help end cycles of poverty for multiple generations.

While the Facing Hunger Foodbank relies on federal, state and private financial and commodity contributions, it needs more funds to continue to provide quality items and services to food-insecure individuals.

That’s where funding from the Pallottine Foundation of Huntington’s 2019 Invited Proposal Initiative helped meet these needs. The foodbank allocated its $300,000 grant award to two key programs for addressing food insecurity in the region: its backpack program and its medically indicated food box program.

The Backpack Program

The foodbank implemented a robust backpack program in seven of its 12 West Virginia counties (Cabell, Lincoln, Logan, Mason, Mingo, Putnam, and Wayne); four counties in Kentucky (Boyd, Greenup, Lawrence, and Martin); and Lawrence County, Ohio.

This program is currently offered to students who participate in the free or reduced breakfast and lunch programs at their schools. These backpacks help to provide meals for the weekends and weeknights, due to those time frames being the peak times for food insecurity.

The program began in Lincoln County Schools; originally, they served 4,000 children per week through direct program service and through member agency partners. The foodbank knew that at least 10,000 other children in its region needed consistent food, but their existing resources couldn’t cover the costs to expand the backpack program. In its first year, the foodbank committed to reach 5,000 additional children, and in year two, they want to reach a total of 10,000 children.

In each backpack, students receive breakfast, lunch, and dinner options for weekends that include vegetables, fruits, less-sugary cereals, shelf-stable milk, and other healthy options. They also use fresh products when available and survey the children to assess their opinions about the foods and the program in general.

“Teachers are saying that when students have the full backpacks and the availability of food all weekend, they’re coming in brighter on Monday,” said Cyndi Kirkhart, Executive Director of Facing Hunger Foodbank. “They’re performing and behaving better. They’re not as tired. With the security of additional food products, they seem to not dread going home on the weekend and don’t talk as much about missed meals during the week.

“I’ve gone out for deliveries, and one time, I talked with a young boy during the delivery. He goes, ‘I get one of those. That truck brings me a backpack.’ I asked him how we are doing, and he said, ‘Good. I love it.’ I asked him if he drank milk with his cereal. He said, ‘I eat it dry, but if I want it wet, I’ll put water on it.’ That was like a gut punch. So, we had to find a way to get shelf-stable milk. Through this program, we are now able to afford shelf-stable milk.”

The Medically Indicated Food Boxes Program

The second part of the funding goes toward a Medically Indicated Food Box (MIFB)/Food “Farmacy” food-box program to address food insecurity for approximately 827 patients with health concerns, such as diabetes, hypertension and end-stage renal disease.

After receiving a $100,000 grant from the Benedum Foundation, they had a handle on the needs of a target demographic in our area; however, that money didn’t go far toward the consistent purchasing of food items for medically indicated food boxes.

“What I found was that we were actually making a medical impact because some of the indicators were improving,” Kirkhart said. “Then, when the program ended and we ran out of funding, the recipients started having setbacks and decreases in those improvements.”

Specifically, end-stage renal disease patients require double the protein. Many of the patients receive services from Medicaid and Medicare. Many were also identified as food insecure. The goals of the program are to increase access to protein by 50 percent, increase protein consumption by 50 percent and to develop two long-standing partnerships.

The Pallottine Foundation of Huntington funding provides a two-to-three-day emergency food supply with referrals to local hunger relief agency pantries. Examples of medical partners include the Pritchard Center at Cabell Huntington Hospital, Huntington Internal Medicine Group, Valley Health Systems, and more. The foodbank targets rural and underserved areas, especially in Wayne County.

After the initial success with end-stage renal disease patients, the foodbank looked at helping individuals with other chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension in order to turn the tide. The program also teaches self-care management.

Over time, the foodbank has adopted a healthier menu for its recipients, moving from starches and carbohydrates to more fresh produce and low-salt, low-fat items that are filling. They wanted to improve the health and nutrition of those they serve, especially in one of the most obese regions in the nation.

“What I am most proud of for both of these programs is that it’s adequate food,” Kirkhart said. “The availability of food doesn’t meet the demand, and although the rest of the country has seen this economic upturn, we have had continued layoffs with the mines and business closures in our service area. So, the consistent and increased product is meaningful because it’s of no cost to them. So, whatever limited resources they have, if they get this, then they are still free to get other emergency food relief so that they can take care of the rest of their lives.”

Due to The Pallottine Foundation of Huntington’s initial support, Kirkhart said she felt motivated to obtain more funding and expand to nearly every county within the foodbank’s service area. One additional stream of funding is through the state of West Virginia, which will help sustain the backpack program. Healthcare partners are supporting the efforts of the food boxes.

In addition, Kirkhart said she appreciates the collaboration and support network by being a Pallottine Foundation of Huntington partner.

“This just has been an incredible journey with The Pallottine Foundation of Huntington,” Kirkhart said. “They have identified their focus areas, which are so meaningful to this community. It really speaks to the attention they’ve paid to the community at large, really looking at which needs could add resources. The long-term impact and influence of their work will be seen far beyond anyone’s lives. So, I think that is a remarkable thing. This is really going to the heart of the work they do. We are blessed to have them in our community.”

“The Pallottine Foundation of Huntington has done what the Sisters originally wanted, which was sustainable interventions to lead to better health in the community. We’re already seeing a really great response to both of our programs because of consistency.”

Six other organizations also received funding through this Initiative, which supported projects related to the Foundation’s Focus Areas of food insecurity, mental and behavioral health, substance use disorder, and tobacco use prevention and cessation.

Learn more on the Facing Hunger website.