MORGANTOWN — If you spend your days securing food for those unable to secure enough for themselves, few things could be as frustrating as watching good food go into the trash.
An initiative accuser the United Way of Monongalia and Preston Counties, the Monongalia County Commission and about 20 area agencies is aimed at stopping that scenario from playing out with the creation of the Community Food Donation Hotline.
The idea was first raised in April, when Monongalia County Commission President Tom Bloom explained that a conference of school nutrition vendors concluded with about $5,000 worth of food items being given to the Pantry Plus More program, a nonprofit that makes food, hygiene products and other resources available to kids at school.
While the gift was greatly appreciated, Bloom said there was also a large amount of food that went into the trash simply because there was nobody to pick it up.
That won’t be the case starting next week, according to Janette Lewis, community impact director for the United Way of Monongalia and Preston Counties.
Lewis explained that a list of hotels, event centers, restaurants and clubs will receive the hotline number with the understanding that leftover bread, fruit, refrigerated, frozen and unopened items could be picked up and distributed to the 20-plus meal programs and food pantries inthe county.
As far as which agency gets the food, she said the calls will likely start with the free-meal programs.
“It will be first come, first served. They’ll have 30 minutes to get back with me. I’ll start notifying the feeding programs, the free meal programs downtown that serve three meals a day. There are several agencies downtown that partner and do that. I’ll offer to them first because we know they’re always looking at that next meal,” Lewis said. “Then we’ll go down the list to the food pantries and different agencies, like Sober Living and Caritas House.”
Lewis went on to say she spoke with representatives from the Monongalia County Health Department who said the program can proceed as long as the food is stored and transported according to the health department’s food handling standards.
The pressure on local meal programs and food pantries is always increasing, Lewis said, particularly since the onset of the opioid crisis. She explained that addressing that need will take community and communication — the pillars on which the food donation hotline is built.
“There is so much poverty in Monongalia County and the Morgantown area that a lot of people just aren’t aware of,” Lewis said. “It’s gotten a lot worse since the drug epidemic. You have parents choosing drugs over food for their children. We have children going hungry in our community. … Some of these programs people ask, ‘Is there really a need?’ I can tell you as a social worker for 28 years, there’s always a need.”
Lewis said the hotline number will be disseminated in the coming days.