The Times West Virginian

December 2, 2012

Hunger problem high priority that’s being fought ‘one person at a time’

Times West Virginian

— The numbers are staggering.

As pointed out in an article in this week’s Parade magazine, featured in today’s Times West Virginian, more than 50 million Americans, including one in five children, don’t always know where their next meal is coming from.

However, it’s more than numbers. Much more. Consider the people behind the numbers. It makes the message even more powerful.

Howard G. Buffett, a Midwestern farmer and philanthropist who is the son of billionaire Warren Buffett, is a leading figure working to reduce hunger in America.

How did he get involved? The impact of personally seeing an individual case.

“Before, I never understood how difficult things were in this country, and how they were getting worse,” he said in the Parade interview. “In America, hunger is hidden; people are ashamed of it. I was in Tucson at a food distribution (center) and noticed a woman walk in with three kids. She looked around and then walked back out. I later found out it was the first time she had ever asked for help, and she was embarrassed.”

Right here in Marion County, numerous organizations and individuals take up the fight against hunger virtually every day.

They see more than numbers. They are familiar with the people and the families that want to take care of themselves but are struggling.

“I guess a lot of things are going to have to change government-wise to get things back in order and get things under control,” Bruce Roberts, president of the Fairmont-Marion County Food Pantry, said. “We don’t like to think of our neighbors or our family members going hungry, but that’s something that happens every day, so those that are lucky need to help the ones that are less fortunate.”

Roberts said that last year the food pantry served a total of 6,060 people. That number has already been surpassed in 2012.

“I think that the times are a little tougher and the prices of food and things have gone up,” Roberts said. “People just can’t hardly make it on minimum income.”

Colleen Morris, director of the Mannington Food Pantry, said that it serves more than 1,000 people per month.

“There are a lot of people out of work, a lot of people getting their hours cut back, losing their jobs and having a hard time making ends meet,” Morris said.

Shelia Skidmore, director of the Soup Opera in Fairmont, believes that this year it will serve around 2,000 more people than it did last year.

“The numbers are climbing,” she said. “People really need extra help even if they’re working a part-time job or two minimum-wage jobs. You just can’t make it on that, so they come in here for supplements.”

Fortunately, as we’ve said many times, Marion County is a generous community.

“One thing about this community is that it’s just absolutely wonderful in helping people,” Skidmore said. “I’m not sure what else the community itself could be doing; they’re helping everybody that they can.”

Buffett tells a story about a kid walking down a beach where hundreds of starfish have washed up to illustrate the point.

“An old man asks what he's doing,” he said. “The kid says he’s throwing the starfish back so they won’t die. The old man says he can’t possibly save all of them, but the kid picks another one up, throws it in the ocean, and says, ‘Well, I saved that one.’ So there are times with this issue when we must think big, but we also can’t lose sight of the fact that it’s still one person at a time.”