by Evan Green

With child hunger rates rising nationwide following the end of the Public Health Emergency, rural areas such as Logan County, West Virginia, which were already vulnerable to food insecurity before the pandemic, are feeling the effects of increased demand and limited supply.

According to WV Kids Count, 36.9% of children in Logan County are in poverty. This is an 11.5% increase since 2019. A large portion of this increase can be attributed to the end of the Public Health Emergency and diminished funding.

Food banks, pantries, and public health services across the county, propped up during the pandemic by government aid money, have now been cut off from those funds. As people across the county have lost their boosted SNAP benefits due to the health emergency’s end, many of these food pantries have seen higher numbers than before the pandemic.

Chad Akers

“The numbers do keep rising. We have people that come regularly, but then every time we do it, it’s nothing for me to register 10 to 20 more families each time, new people,” Chad Akers, President of the Hungry Lambs Food Initiative, said.

Akers has worked at Hungry Lambs since 2019, just before the pandemic. Hungry Lambs is one of the largest food pantries in Logan County, and its numbers have only risen since the end of the pandemic.

“I think we’re doing the best we can to manage the problem. I do see a rising right now. Like I said, the last two times we have done our distribution, I don’t want to say record-highs, but it’s been the highest amount of families we’ve served in a year or more,” Akers said.

Aside from the typical increase in numbers that Hungry Lambs experiences during the holidays, the last two distributions had some of the highest numbers the organization has ever seen, which becomes even more concerning considering their dwindling support from the government.

“We probably aren’t giving out the amount that we were able to give out because, like I said, we were getting so much free. Now that that’s not coming in, we are having to watch what we spend,” Akers said. “Just because money’s coming in right now doesn’t mean we are going to continue to get those donations.”

While Hungry Lambs support people in need of all ages in Logan County, Akers was able to shine a light on some of the numbers surrounding child hunger in the area.

“We do have a lot of children that we have to help. I’m looking at my report from last month… just Logan County alone, we served 286 families, and there was approximately, within those households, around 156 kids under the age of 17.”

Michael Tierney, founder of Step by Step, a community and leadership organization that operates in Logan and Lincoln County and parts of Charleston, also pointed out that many programs haven’t been able to continue past the pandemic.

Michael Tierney

“One of the things that greatly saddens me is the continued dwindling of summer food programs,” Tierney said.

Many of these children who lost their primary caregiver during the pandemic are now experiencing hunger at a higher level. Whereas before the pandemic, they could rely on someone to ensure they had access to nutritious food, either by purchasing it or collecting from food pantries, many of them now have no one in their lives to make sure they don’t go to sleep hungry.

People being cut off from additional federal benefits due to the end of the Public Health Emergency and a lack of government support for local food banks has put an incredible strain on Logan County, an already impoverished community with a high rate of child hunger before the pandemic.

While the community of Logan County fights to heal from the effects of the pandemic and feed those in need, uncertainties over funding continue to threaten the area.

“There’s a rally that needs to happen of people who think this is an issue. Not just for children, but for food insecurity as a whole,” Tierney said.

The future of child hunger in Logan County remains bleak. The area has historically struggled with food insecurity, and the decrease in support will only exacerbate existing issues. Still, community members working with food pantries are doing everything they can to manage the problem and feed the most vulnerable members of the county.

Carolyn Farley, a representative for Step by Step, summarized her experience working on the ground facing child hunger in Logan County.

 “We served 110 children in the month of September. The families in Logan County are having a very hard time keeping up with the cost of living when we are already poverty prone anyways… We have so many grandparents raising their grandchildren due to opioids and now fentanyl. It’s a very sad situation.”

According to WFXR, West Virginia currently has 86,000 children living in poverty, which makes it the highest rate of child poverty in the U.S.

Evan Green is a Marshall University student majoring in journalism and psychology. He has been a freelance reporter for several news publications over the last five years, including Scioto County Daily News, The Portsmouth Daily Times, and the Shawnee State Chronicle. He also served as the Field Director for Dr. Sydnee McElroy’s House of Delegates campaign and worked as a summer fellow for the West Virginia Working Families Party. Evan is also a member of the Brad D. Smith Student Incubator. 


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