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Helpful Harvest provides healthy options

Many were already struggling to meet their basic needs when the pandemic hit a few years ago. In fact, in the early days of COVID-19, when grocery stores were having trouble keeping food and other essentials on the shelves, calls to our office skyrocketed from people who needed these types of items.

United Way’s Helpful Harvest Food Program was born out of that time.

Thanks to a grant from the Hazel Ruby McQuain Charitable Trust, the United Way of Mon and Preston Counties began a huge undertaking: Addressing food insecurity in the two counties by making sure folks not only had something to eat on the table, but also that they had healthier options.

Looking back over the past couple years, we’re so proud of how this program has expanded and evolved, with different partnerships and a new greenhouse project.

It all started in May 2020, when Helpful Harvest was born, and it operated primarily at Preston County Workshop until the United Way’s satellite office at Hazel’s House of Hope was finished with renovations.

Now, the program runs out of both locations to better serve all communities, and it feeds 12,893 individuals each month by getting food to 46 area feeding programs.

United Way purchases produce — things like tomatoes, potatoes, corn, green peppers, and even zucchini — to distribute to these participating agencies and organizations. There are storage facilities at both county locations, and the agencies and organizations visit these sites to pick up healthy food options on a regular basis.

“The program is also purchasing from local farms, which in turn has been able to support the area’s agricultural economy,” said Janette Lewis, community impact director for the United Way. “Beef and pork are purchased and processed from Preston County High School’s animal processing program. By supporting our local farmers, we are establishing food sustainability programs and supporting farm preservation.”

One of the newest and most exciting aspects of Helpful Harvest has been the establishment of the greenhouse.

Through a partnership with Abundant Life Recovery Housing Network, United Way has been able to use two greenhouse tunnels in Westover along the river to start growing food to sell to support Helpful Harvest.

The property itself is owned by West Virginia University, with the support of WVU Extension and agriculture programs. Volunteers from the community, as well as several United Way staff members, are growing leafy vegetables and microgreens, which are then harvested and sold to local restaurants, businesses and individuals.

The volunteers include folks from Abundant Life who are recovering from addiction, and it serves as a step for many of them to re-enter the workforce.

“Staff work with the clients in the greenhouse, giving a neutral, non-intimidating and relaxing environment to connect. At the same time, it builds confidence and self-esteem, while clients learn skills for food self-sufficiency,” Janette said. “Food grown is helping to support the Helpful Harvest Food Program by providing healthy foods to distribute in the program.”

More plans for the greenhouse space include working with the outdoor raised beds and cleanup along the river.

It’s exciting to see how this ever-expanding and evolving program will change lives for the better in north-central West Virginia. More projects are on the horizon, and Janette and the rest of the United Way staff is thrilled to see where the program will take them next.

“The program addresses some of the greatest issues our communities are facing by meeting food insecurity needs, nutritional needs, education and self-sufficiency, mental health, employment opportunities to people with disabilities, veterans, and those in substance abuse recovery programs,” Janette said. “We’re delighted to see the impact it’s had on the community so far and look forward to changing the game even more in the future.”

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