FAIRMONT — The line of cars outside of Palatine Park Wednesday morning carried with it hundreds of heartbreaking stories about residents living in food insecurity.
The Mountaineer Food Bank always draws a number of people to its distribution events, but since the coronavirus pandemic began, the number of people in need has grown even larger.
“We get very good feedback about how much it has helped,” said Britnie Anderson, mobile food pantry director for the Mountaineer Food Bank. “Especially in this pandemic, not a lot of people have jobs right now or know where their next meal is coming from. So when they hear that we’re coming, it’s a big deal for them.”
The Connecting Link in Fairmont is the local nonprofit that arranges Mountaineer Food Bank distribution events in Marion County, and they have been taking place every few weeks now because of the need for food. At Palatine Park, The Mountaineer Food Bank handed out meal packs, which are meant to supply families with food for at least a few days.
“We’re averaging about 350 families in feeding,” said Jone Webb, executive director of the Connecting Link. “We don’t have anything left usually when we’re done.”
Webb said the Connecting Link has been seeing an increase in the number of individuals looking for help paying bills, because many have been left jobless because of the pandemic. With money being tight for many, food insecurity becomes a larger issue.
“Probably 90 percent of them are just plain out of work; they don’t know what tomorrow will bring,” Webb said. “They keep saying the unemployment issue has been resolved. We see people all the time who haven’t gotten their first unemployment check.”
Although the line of cars stretched throughout the parking lot of Palatine Park, the volunteers and workers helping with the food distribution made it an efficient process. Prior to 11 a.m., volunteers packed boxes with food, which they could then just load into cars as they stopped at the drive thru. Some of the volunteers were from local agencies that just wanted to lend a helping hand.
“It was right about the beginning of the pandemic when things were looking really dark,” said Ben Thompson, of Fairmont, who sells insurance. “We were just kind of sitting on our hands for a little bit and we decided it would be better to just get out in the community and do something worthwhile.”
Lesa Yoho is the owner of the State Farm agency that assisted in the distribution, and said that although she didn’t know about these events prior to the pandemic, she believed it was important to get involved.
“We wanted to feel like we were contributing in some way,” Yoho said. “This is a good thing, I didn’t even know this was a thing until now. We plan on being here for all of them we can.”
Anderson said despite the long line, still not everyone who is in need knows about the distribution events. She said many people are feeling the effects of the loss of income, but some just put the need for food on the back burner for other necessities.
“One of the things that gets pushed back on a normal person’s list of buys is food,” Anderson said. “They want to make sure their utilities or their rent is paid, so they push back their food.”
In order to provide the most aid possible, the Mountaineer Food Bank loads up food packs with protein and produce. This is so families that get the packs can save the money they do have at the store, and spend it on other necessities.
“Meat is becoming such a short circuit, so we try to make sure we can get as much protein out as we can to these families,” Anderson said. “A lot of produce is even high in price anymore.”
Seeing the line of people in need form lines at each distribution event, Webb said she will continue bringing the Mountaineer Food Bank to Marion County, in order to fulfill the constant need.
“We’re going to go ahead and schedule beyond July,” Webb said. “We want to make sure we can get Marion County fed.”
Anderson said the stories she hears on her trips around the 45 counties served by the Mountaineer Food Bank are the most eye-opening. Having heard these stories, Anderson said continuing to supply food is a life-saver to some recipients.
“I’ve had people come to me in tears telling me that this is going to be his next meal until he sees us again,” Anderson said. “Not everybody gives us feedback, but the ones who do, it’s heartbreaking.”