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Pantry Plus More continues daunting task of keeping kids fed during shutdown

MORGANTOWN — The Pantry Plus More program delivered nearly 200 food boxes to the families of Monongalia County students on Thursday.

And you may not believe it, but actually delivering the boxes — some 400 weekly —  is probably the least stressful part of a nonstop process that the nonprofit has sustained since COVID-19 shut the state’s schools down a month ago.

Christine Wang, the mobile food chair and board advisor for the feeding program, said it takes about three times as much food to fill  the boxes as it did to stock the program’s in-school pantries.

Each box contains about $35 worth of food meant to feed a family of four twice daily for four days. They’re delivered to families identified by school outreach coordinators who provide the program addresses, not names.

That dramatic increase in need comes as many traditional sources, like the Mountaineer Food Bank and various area distributors, struggle to fill orders due to overwhelming demand.

Wang said she and her son, Roark Sizemore — the nonprofit’s president — routinely  fill in the gaps at grocery and box stores where, in a time when the fear of empty store shelves has become a fact of life, they often draw the ire of other shoppers due to the size of their purchases — and, too often, other reasons.

“We’re experiencing quite a bit of racism when we go out to do this, too. That’s why he doesn’t want me doing it anymore. We’re getting a lot of ‘Go home, chinks,’ and ‘This is all your fault.’ In fact, it’s gotten so bad that City Neon is working on signs we can put on our shopping cart that says, ‘Shopping for Pantry Plus More’ or something like that,” Wang said.

She said it’s not uncommon to spend hours daily on the phone and social media securing food from various sources, only to face the logistical nightmare of having to stash refrigerated and frozen items in various business and personal refrigerators until distribution day, when the process has to be reversed.

“You’ve got to be willing to jump up and go, and that’s a lot of work. When you get 60 gallons of milk from someone, you start thinking, ‘My God, where do I put 60 gallons of milk?’” she said “It’s physically taxing and it’s emotionally taxing because the idea of not having enough food does scare us. We just keep going and keep praying people will keep donating.”

Due to gathering limitations and social distancing, Wang said the best way for the community to get involved is to donate money — particularly through the nonprofit’s Facebook page as Facebook doesn’t charge fees on donations.

She said the effort needed to pull off two food deliveries weekly, plus other monthly food giveaways the program provides, is daunting, but made possible by the community.

“It really is a beautiful, beautiful story of this community, the way people are jumping in to help,” Wang said. “What you find is if you reach out and ask, 99% of the time people will do everything in their power to help. That’s just really amazing.”

As an example, she pointed to the ladies of the Brookhaven United Methodist Church, who volunteered to bake and deliver fresh bread every week.

County Commissioner Tom Bloom, the nonprofit’s executive director, said businesses like Stick Tattoo Company, City Neon, City Crane, Sysco Pittsburgh, Greene Turtle, Sam’s Club, Chuck’s Furniture, WVU Extension, Target, Cracker Barrel and others have stepped to the plate with donations of food, money, space and equipment to keep the effort going.

He also thanked the City of Westover, which hauls a substantial amount of trash away from the program’s storage facility three times weekly.

“This really is an 8-12 hour daily process, because as soon as we do Monday’s delivery, then Tuesday morning we start building the boxes for Thursday,” Bloom said. “What we worry about is what we do when school is technically over, in June. We’ll still have the problem. How are we going to continue feeding?”

For now, Wang said, it’s one day at a time.

“It is tough. Most days you don’t mind and you shake it off, but sometimes you get those comments … and you think, ‘My God, what more can we do?’ ” she said. “But for the most part, we’re doing good. We’re in good spirits. We keep each other going and we have a lot of amazing volunteers, that’s for sure.”

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