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Mon Commission declares a state of emergency, provides funds for feeding programs

MORGANTOWN — During a meeting in which it declared Monongalia County in a state of emergency due to COVID-19, the Monongalia County Commission approved up to $20,453 in emergency funding for local feeding programs.

The commission approved an amount not to exceed $10,000 for the Pantry Plus More program, which is providing a rapidly increasing number  weekly food boxes to families of school-aged children while schools are closed.

Commissioner Tom Bloom, who serves as the executive director of the program, did not participate in discussion or vote on the pantry funding.

Pantry Board President Roark Sizemore said the school-based program handed out 289 boxes two weeks ago and expects to be up over 400 boxes this week.

“I’m estimating the numbDuring er will get up to 500 in the next couple weeks,” Sizemore said. The boxes, each containing ingredients for nine meals, are delivered on Mondays to families specifically identified by the school outreach coordinators, and on Thursdays to families that have signed up for the service.

But as demand rises, so do prices. The Mountaineer Food Bank, which offers steep discounts to such programs, has limited what’s available in response to the increased strain.

Sizemore said the contents of the boxes normally cost about $40 retail. Usually he can get that price down as low as $25. Right now, it’s about $36 — or about $16,000 weekly.

One possibility would be to work directly through the school system, the USDA and the West Virginia Department of Agriculture.

Monongalia County Board of Education President Ron Lytle said the USDA is loosening it rules in regard to what qualifies as a food pantry during this health crisis. This is food that would normally be delivered to schools for their various meal programs. 

“The food comes for free from the USDA to the state transferred through the state department of agriculture to the schools or different food pantries,” Lytle said.

Sizemore explained that while PPM does get some food from the USDA, it’s different than what’s available to the schools.

“Right now it becomes a problem with the USDA when they give the food to the schools and its given to a third party,” Sizemore said. “We’re  trying to find a way to work around that.”

In the meantime, Lytle said West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture Kent Leonhardt told him “to put the order in through the school and we’ll make this happen.”

The commission approved $5,000 payable to either Monongalia County Schools or the West Virginia Department of Agriculture to that end.

The commission also approved $5,453.27 for Morgantown Area Meals on Wheels.

Manager Sara Bishop said that money will be used to purchase frozen meals to have on hand in the event the program can no longer prepare and deliver meals to clients.

In other commission news, Monongalia County Clerk Carye Blaney said her office has already received about 550 applications for absentee ballots for the upcoming primary election, which Governor Jim Justice pushed back 27 days, to June 9.

Blaney said her office will mail absentee ballot applications to every eligible voter in the county, but they must return the application by email, fax or post before a ballot will be mailed.

She said the county’s voters should concern themselves with staying safe and healthy, not with the election.

“I encourage all of our voters not to worry about the election part,” Blaney said. “We will make sure all the voters in this county will have an opportunity to cast their ballot.”

As for the emergency declaration, MECCA Director Jimmy Smith said it basically follows the national and state declarations and will give the county better access to federal dollars through agencies like FEMA in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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