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Helpful Harvest serves fresh produce to all demographics

When you’re choosing  between putting food on the table or paying the utility bills, making dinner for your family or paying for your doctor visit, or even giving the kids a healthy snack versus buying a bus ticket, healthy food choices are likely nowhere near the top of the list.

When you’re living paycheck to paycheck, many families are often deciding between food, medical care, utilities, transportation and housing. Why purchase produce when a box of Ramen noodles is so much cheaper? 

And then, when you throw COVID-19 into the mix, food insecurity can go from bad to worse.

But what if the fresh, healthy options were available for these food-insecure families and easily obtained from nearby pantries? That’s the goal of Helpful Harvest Food Program, an initiative of the United Way of Monongalia and Preston Counties.

Helpful Harvest was borne out of the needs revealed by COVID-19, but food insecurity is not a new problem in Monongalia and Preston counties. The pandemic has changed the game though, making it more difficult for families in need — some who were already struggling before and some who were not — to find and obtain food. In fact, state food pantries reported a 53% increase in food requests during the pandemic.

Thanks to a generous grant from the Hazel Ruby McQuain Charitable Trust, the United Way of Monongalia and Preston Counties is working to feed families through the end of 2020, with hopes of continuing the program in the new year. The trust donated $820,000 in June, $750,000 to go toward the food program and $70,000 to be used to renovate space in the former Ramada Inn, where the program will be housed.

Right now, food is being packed at Preston County Workshop by United Way staff, volunteers and workshop workers to give to food pantries, which then distribute to families in need in both counties.

In addition to this work and helping to store produce in its industrial refrigerator, Preston County Workshop has helped transport food through a partnership with Appalachian Sustainable Development’s Appalachian Harvest Food Hub, in Duffield, Va., for 19 feeding programs in both counties. Along with the fresh produce purchased, that partnership also allows United Way to receive about 500 boxes a week from them through the USDA Food Box Program. The United Way will also purchase goods from local farms, as well as dry goods to distribute.

These partnerships will continue, even when the program moves into its renovated home in the former Ramada Inn.

The overarching goal of Helpful Harvest is to get food in the hands of those who need it most. Secondly, because the food provided will be fresh, often organic fruits and vegetables; potentially local meat and dairy products; and healthy shelf-stable food such as rice, peanut butter and cereal, United Way staff hopes to make a dent in the state’s food-related health problems, such as obesity, heart disease.

“Often, food pantries are forced to distribute unhealthy, chemically processed foods to people because they are affordable, and most commonly donated at food drives and collection sites,” said United Way Community Impact Director Janette Lewis. “As a result, many of our food insecure population suffer from obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease.” 

Through the program, United Way will be able to serve all demographics, not just families with school-age children. Families with and without children, senior citizens, veterans, folks with disabilities, and more who are in need can all receive help.

“We want to express tremendous gratitude to the Hazel Ruby McQuain Charitable Trust for stepping up to help combat pressing student and family food insecurity and needs magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Brandi Helms, chief executive officer of the United Way of Monongalia and Preston Counties. “We’re so thankful to be able to partner with the trust to help feed families in Mon and Preston counties.” 

Volunteers are needed to help pack food boxes for the Helpful Harvest Food Program. If you are interested or have a team who could help pack boxes wearing masks and using social distancing measures, visit or email

If you are in need of food or want to learn more about this program, contact your nearest food pantry or call the Helpful Harvest line at 304-322-2066.

Amanda Posey  is the director of marketing and communications for the United Way of Monongalia and Preston Counties. She can be reached at