HURRICANE, W.Va. -- Sasha Colette approached the crowd of expectant people gathered in the Walmart parking lot in Hurricane Thursday morning.
"Today we have a really good selection of food," she said. "Today's a really good day, but you never know. It depends on the day."
Behind Colette, volunteers from the Huntington Area Food Bank and the Five Loaves, Two Fish Food Bank in nearby Poca unload and unpack more than 9,000 pounds of food to be given away that day.
The Huntington Area Food bank held its largest mobile food pantry to date in Putnam County on Thursday. The mobile pantry has been visiting towns in the 17 counties it serves in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio for two years, but this is the first trip it has made to Putnam County in more than a year, according to Colette, the program coordinator for the Huntington Area Food Bank.
"Everything about this job makes you really thankful for the things you have and the things you haven't had to deal with in your life," Colette said. "It makes you realize there are reasons to feel fortunate, whether it's being able to provide for your family or not having to worry about things. It just shows you how different your situation could be."
Colette said the mobile pantry ordinarily distributes 3-4,000 pounds of food during a typical visit, but generous donations leading up to Thursday's event allowed them to give away much more -- enough to give almost 250 families about 50 pounds of groceries each.
"It feels good to know that you're actually making a real difference in people's lives," said agency relations assistant Hannah Redman.
Redman, a dietetics student at Marshall University, said her work through the food bank has shown her how essential programs to combat hunger are in the state.
"Food is a basic need, and before you can even start worrying about nutrition, you have to worry 'is anybody getting enough to eat?'" she said.
The Huntington Area Food Bank has three affiliate food banks in the county, and Colette said it hopes to start one or two more in the area to help feed the estimated 6,000 people who live in poverty in Putnam County. Until then it plans to continue holding monthly food pantries to assist eligible families in the area.
Dreama Ward, director of Five Loaves, Two Fish Food Pantry in Poca, one of the pantries overseen by the Huntington Food Bank, said Five Loaves serves 150-200 families a month, but the food provided by the mobile pantry could help further supplement families having trouble making ends meet.
"This is a good idea; it helps a lot," Ward said. "As far as helping alleviate some of the people coming to our pantry; no, they'll still come. Families can only come every 30 days to get food, so there's no way we can give them enough food to last that long. We try to give them enough to last at least a couple of weeks, but this should help them."
The Huntington Area Food Bank is a nonprofit organization through Feeding America, the largest relief agency in the U.S. The food bank serves more than 96,000 food-insecure people through 260 agencies in southern West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio.
For more information on the Huntington Area Food Bank, visit www.hafb.org.Reach Lydia Nuzum at lydia.nu...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5100.