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Pantry Plus More: Hearts combating hunger every day

Growling bellies don’t care about intellectual growth or academic progress.

In other words, if you’re a kid in Monongalia County, and you went to bed hungry last night (and plenty of kids here do), that means you also woke up hungry this morning.

Which also means you’re probably not worrying all that much about that essay you have due in second-period English that you just didn’t get done — or that sheet of Algebraic equations that was technically due two days ago.

And that’s because the only thing you can really focus on is the one thing: That growling belly of yours.

Enter Pantry Plus More.

Julie Woolwine, who is into her first year as board president of the Westover-based food bank, always shakes her head when she hears people from across the Mountain State talking about Mon County.

Mon, many will say, is an outlier, because of its general prosperity.

After all, they’ll add, the place is a major medical hub for the region, not to mention being the home of both WVU and a relatively thriving business community.

However, “relative” is still the watchword, she’ll counter.

While the county does fare better than several of its neighbors, generational poverty — the byproduct of living in Appalachia — still abounds locally.

So does food insecurity: which is an actual, documented measurement.

To be “food insecure” means you aren’t able to sustain yourself, nutritionally. It means you’re literally, and clinically, not getting enough to eat.

Of the more than 11,000 students currently enrolled in Mon’s public school district, 20% of them — or 2,240 — experience food insecurity on a regular basis.

That puts Mon, according to Feeding America and other watchdog groups, in the top 10 of the state’s counties to also experience a marker identified as “persistent poverty,” with another 20% of the population living below the poverty line for three decades or better.

“Those are sizeable numbers,” Woolwine said.

“And, as we’re talking, they’re hitting in a place where you might not expect it.”

Quelling hunger among Mon’s students was the mission community activist Roark Sizemore had when he co-founded the pantry as a high schooler back in 2016 with the help of now-Monongalia County Commissioner Tom Bloom.

Bloom, a retired educator, was Sizemore’s guidance counselor at the time.

Besides its main headquarters at 9 Rousch Drive in Westover, Pantry Plus More is a presence in Brookhaven, North, Cheat Lake and Eastwood elementary schools — along with the Monongalia County Technical Education Center on Mississippi Street.

Those in-school locations also carry clothing and personal hygiene items that students are free to “shop” from, thus lessening the social stigma of a “handout,” Woolwine said.

“We eventually want to be in every school in the county,” she said.

These days, Pantry Plus More also serves several hundred families and residents a month through the in-school efforts and coordinated food distribution days from Rousch Drive.

“We’re all volunteer,” the board president said.

She’d like you to be one, also.

To learn more about the mission and how you can volunteer or donate, visit Pantry Plus More on the web and Facebook.

“Volunteers are at the heart of everything we do, because our kids and their families are at the heart of what we do,” she said.

“We’re out there in the rain and snow,” the board president continued. “That’s what families do for families.”

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