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Growing Together to Address Food Insecurity in WV

Growing Together to Address Food Insecurity in West Virginia


What is the Growing Together Statewide Service Challenge?

What is the Statewide Service Challenge?West Virginia 4-H faculty developed the “Grow a Row” service project to help address food insecurity throughout the Mountain State. By growing vegetables to take to a local food bank, delivering meals to those who need them, volunteering time to a local pantry or organizing a food drive, we can help our communities and raise awareness about food insecurity in our state. We hope that our West Virginia 4-H clubs and members will participate in the statewide service challenge. There are many ways to participate, and together, we can make a difference.

Who can participate? 

The service challenge is open to West Virginia 4-H clubs/members who want to participate in the statewide service challenge. 

How do individuals get involved? 

If you are interested in participating in this service project, which will run through September 2023, simply choose your service project, complete the online registration form and keep track of your efforts. As always, we’ll also ask you to share photos of you and your group tending to your “row” or volunteering at a local food pantry so that we can share this with others. 

Sign up now! After completion of your food-insecurity project, you will document your service project to measure the pounds of food collected, type of project and hours of service.

When? 

Participants can complete their food-insecurity project any time between now and September 30, 2023. 

Where? 

In local communities throughout West Virginia. 

Service Ideas

Grow a Row

Gardening for food banks might be a good way to use up that overload of tomatoes and may even be purposeful, like when a gardener dedicates part or all the garden plot as a giving garden or specifically to fight hunger.

If you want to grow vegetables for a food bank, it’s a good idea to contact the food bank directly prior to planting. Each food bank will have different needs, so it is best to find out exactly what they are looking for. They may already have someone who donates potatoes, for example, and aren’t interested in more. They may have a more pressing need for fresh greens instead. Learn more at Gardening Know How: What Is A Food Bank – Learn About Gardening For Food Banks

Other Service Project Ideas

Can’t grow a row of vegetables or want to find another way to be involved in this service project? Below are a few ideas:

  • Contact your local food bank or food pantry to determine what they need/how you can volunteer
  • Organize a food drive      
  • Participate in a backpack program at a local school     
  • Serve meals at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter      
  • Advocate for others to be involved                   
  • Create a food map 

Volunteer Opportunities at Food Banks/Pantries

Every volunteer experience is different. More than 50% of food programs rely entirely on volunteers. Here are some things you might do as a volunteer:

  • Sort and pack food: You can keep the shelves stocked by assembling food boxes for distribution.
  • Assist at mobile pantries, drive-thru pantries, and no-contact distributions: Help your neighbors feed their families
  • Deliver meals
  • Glean and garden: Volunteers collect food left in the fields after harvest or help tend to the food bank or food pantry's community garden
  • Volunteer from home: Some food banks have moved their volunteer shifts online and are asking volunteers to help fundraise or spread awareness.

Start a Food Drive 

Steps to successfully complete a food drive:

  1. Plan Your Event: Determine when, where, and how you’ll hold your drive. Get your members’ input and tap into their connections and expertise.
  2. Set a Goal: Make it measurable (pounds of food collected, number of meals supplied, or dollar amount raised).
  3. Promote Your Event: Share your event on your social media channels to let people know about the project. Contact your local newspaper or radio station to see if they will run a story on your project and/or invite them to your event/volunteer project (be sure to get approval from the food bank/food pantry prior to making that ask). Share information, including photos from your projects, with WVU Extension’s 4-H team so that we document/ showcase the work. 
  4. Track Your Success! Don’t forget to complete the online form to report your success!

Host a Backpack Program

Backpack food programs provide nutritious, non-perishable, easy-to-prepare food to children to ensure they get enough food on weekends and holidays to avoid hunger when they can’t depend on school meals.  

Starting a Backpack Program:

  1. Contact your local food bank to determine if existing backpack food programs are available and other resources they can provide. Set up a meeting with the principal to discuss the possibility of starting a backpack program in your school.
  2. Present at a staff and parent group meeting to garner additional support for the program.
  3. Determine the specifics of your program, including the number of children you will target, strategies for marketing the program to families, a budget, and backpack compilation and distribution logistics.
  4. Recruit volunteers to support your program.
  5. Collect the backpacks and distribute them to students at your school or others in the community who need them.

Fill Local Blessing Boxes or Create a New One

Blessing boxes are filled with nonperishable foods such as canned goods and crackers, as well as toiletries and household items for families in need of a little extra help. Boxes are accessible any time of day and are open to anyone. 

When someone visits a blessing box location, people are welcome to take whatever may help them (no need to check in with any person or organization) or they can add items for others who may be in need. Blessing boxes, also known as little free pantries or community food boxes, are part of a national movement of community service that you can find in many local neighborhoods these days. 

Don’t Forget to Document Your Project

After completion of your food-insecurity project, you will register your service project online to measure the pounds of food collected, type of project, and hours of service.

Take photos and share your project with your local 4-H agent! (Be sure to ask permission from the organization and/or school where you are taking photos.) 

The following quotes can be used in promoting your project/event.

“West Virginia agriculture is good health. It’s good health for our economy. It’s good health for our citizens, and it’s good health for the environment. You can’t tell me another industry in West Virginia that can claim good health for all three things.” ~ West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture Ken Leonhardt 

“The lack of access to fresh food on a daily basis for many of our rural communities' troubles me every day.” ~ West Virginia State Senator Stephen Baldwin

Additional Food Insecurity Facts and Info

What is Food Insecurity?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. It is important to know that though hunger and food insecurity are closely related, they are distinct concepts. Hunger refers to a personal, physical sensation of discomfort, while food insecurity refers to a lack of available financial resources for food at the household level.In West Virginia, more than 217,000 people are food insecure (see chart below). 

Graphic w/the outline of West Virginia and number of people who are food insecure (217,690); rate of food insecurity pie chart (12%); charts that show SNAP eligible (27%) vs. non-eligible (73%); and cost of a meal ($2,81)

Who does food insecurity affect?

There is no single face of food insecurity, as it affects every community in the United States. To learn more about child and overall food insecurity in your state, including congressional districts and county-level data, see the Map the Meal Gap study conducted by Feeding America®. 

Hunger is a pervasive issue in the U.S. Before the coronavirus pandemic, more than 35 million people struggled with hunger, including more than 10 million children, according to Feeding America. The organization estimates that the numbers of food insecure people may rise to more than 54 million people and 18 million children in 2020.