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Too many cooks? Not in Mon Schools or at Scott’s Run Settlement House

MORGANTOWN — If you were to sneak a peek at Shay Petitto’s day planner, you’d see the entry for Monday, May 3, 2021, boldly circled and underscored twice.  

That’s the day Donna Talerico and Brian Kiehl are stopping by.

“Do you realize how much we can do with $1,000?” Petitto said of the donation from Monongalia County Schools. “I can’t tell you how appreciative I am.”

Petitto is director of Scott’s Run Settlement House, the Osage organization that has been helping families in need since 1922.

She’s had the job for six years now.

Before that, she put her graduate degree in rehabilitation counseling to use in her work with homeless populations and the HIV/AIDS community.

Talerico is deputy superintendent of Mon County Schools and Kiehl works with her, as the district’s director of child nutrition.

That donation Petitto was marveling over?

Call it a recipe in altruism, if you like.

Actually, it’s a lot of recipes.

All are courtesy of the “Quarantine Cookbook,” an idea mixed and stirred by the deputy superintendent last spring when the school district went to remote learning due to the pandemic.

It’s more than 100 pages, with twice that many recipes.

Breakfast, breakfast and more breakfast.

Soups and a passel of chili offerings, of varying spicy degrees.

Comfort foods of every kind.

And enough desserts to launch 1,000 gym memberships.

Even unique culinary offerings to impress the hardcore foodies in your circle.

All for $5 — with 100% of the proceeds going to the settlement house.

Stirring the pot — for the common good

Just like leftovers in the refrigerator, the idea was designed to sustain the bounty.

Talerico wanted to keep the district’s cooks working on those pandemic-abbreviated days, so they could still get paid.

“So I asked everyone to put together their best recipes,” she said.

“School cooks are cooks, first. I was thinking we could get a cookbook and sell it for charity.”

Kiehl was the book’s chief editor.

Scott’s Run Settlement House as the chief benefactor wasn’t a happy accident.

It’s a place known for its backpack feeding programs and as a partner with Monongalia County Schools in that endeavor.

The marching orders, in part, are to help quell food insecurity in the region.

To be “food insecure” means you are literally not getting enough to eat to sustain yourself nutritionally. That makes it a clinical malady just as much as a socioeconomic one.

And West Virginia is a destination for food insecurity.

The condition is prevalent in the downtrodden counties in the southern coalfields and even in relatively prosperous Monongalia County.

As many as 1 in 5 children across the Mountain State go to bed with growling bellies, according to pre-pandemic numbers culled by Feeding America, the online nutrition watchdog group.

More than 2,000 children across Mon have been classified as food insecure, using those same numbers.

A recipe for compassion

In Scott’s Run, the Settlement House has roots running deep like the coal seams.

The Women’s Home Missionary Society founded the house 99 years ago as the region’s coal fortunes were already on the wane.

Early programs included literacy and citizenship courses for newly arrived immigrants wishing to carve their purchases of the American dream in a West Virginia coal mine.

The crushing poverty of the Scott’s Run area, from the decline in coal to the stock market crash in 1929, caught the attention of Eleanor Roosevelt, who established the Arthurdale homestead community in neighboring Preston County as a rescue to families wrenchingly left adrift.

In the present, the settlement house is carrying on with its work, diminished as it is, by the pandemic.

Food from its pantry is now offered curbside for social distancing, Petitto said.

“We’ve got a good community of volunteers,” she said. “The thing now is to get people vaccinated.”

That cookbook check from Mon Schools, Petitto said, is a real shot in the arm.

“We can do a lot of things with $1,000,” as she said, “down to the penny.”

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