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State food banks in 'desperate need'

Lawrence Pierce
Carl Teel, of Charleston, makes a donation of water and other food outside the state Capitol on Tuesday. State officials held the drive after the state's food banks reported that their supplies were depleted.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Officials from West Virginia's largest food banks say their supplies are about to vanish.

The demand for non-perishable groceries has hit crisis levels for food banks struggling to help those sitting in the dark from Friday and Sunday's storms.

About half a million state residents were without power Tuesday and electric companies projected services won't be fully restored until later this week.

Chad Morrison, resource coordinator for the Mountaineer Food Bank, said food is going out the door "at a breakneck pace." Mountaineer, based in Braxton County, supplies food to 612 pantries, soup kitchens and after-school programs in 48 of the state's 55 counties.

Since the outages, the food bank has doubled its usual 200,000 clients as unreasonably hot temperatures grip the region.

"We rely a lot on our store donation program but a lot of the stores lost food that would have otherwise been donated," Morrison said. "Donated food has been down but is being sent out by the maximum. If we keep it up at this pace it's going to dwindle down."

Morrison said donations are critical in the coming weeks as people regain power and need to restock the items they lost. Many grocery stores around the state were forced to dispose of spoiled frozen and perishable items.

Scott Frasure, director of development for the Huntington Area Food Bank, said they are in "desperate need" for donations.

"The storm couldn't have hit during a worse time," Frasure said. "Summer is a time when food banks don't have a lot of food in stock. People think the only time you should donate is during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays."

Frasure said they've moved about 2,600 pounds of food since Friday. Huntington Food Bank normally delivers to 260 agencies in 12 counties. They've far exceeded their normal reach of 96,000 people, he said. 

"Everything we got in went right back out of the door within an hour," Frasure said.

The demand for the following items remain the highest: include bottled water, oatmeal, dry cereal, cream of wheat, baby formula, shelf-stable milk, peanut butter, pasta, tomato sauce, dry beans and canned fruits, vegetables, meats and soups.

On Tuesday night, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and members of the West Virginia National Guard held a donation drive to benefit the food banks.

A steady stream of people pulled their cars in front of the state Capitol steps to deliver food and water to awaiting volunteers.

Tomblin and First Lady Joanne Jaeger Tomblin greeted their generosity and helped carry some of the donations to large National Guard trucks.

"It's the fourth day into this weather event, this disaster," Tomblin said. "Those people who kept food in their freezers are having to discard their food. They benefit from the food banks lending out to various shelters and so forth. This is a great opportunity for West Virginians to help West Virginians."

The drive collected a truck full of food items. Also, Walmart donated pallets of bottled water and Target gave $400 worth of food.

Rochelle Neely, of Charleston, said she saw the drive advertised and decided to bring what she had in her cupboard. She was one of the lucky ones who didn't lose power and wanted to give back, she said.

National Guard spokesman Lt. Col. David Lester said the recovery effort is shifting to making sure that people have supplies and food while they are regaining power.

Major Gen. James A. Hoyer, adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard, said there are more than 500 guardsmen on duty at a time. The recovery has benefited from cooperation between agencies, he said.

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.


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