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Hunger problem faces Tri-State

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Hunger doesn’t discriminate. It can affect adults, children and college graduates. It could even impact the life of a co-worker or someone who passes by on the street.

According to Feeding America’s Web site, one in eight people in the United States go hungry on a daily basis. The Hunger in America 2009 study stated that 54 percent of Tri-State residents served by the Huntington Area Food Bank (HAFB) have to choose between paying for food and paying for utilities or medication.

While hunger is a persistent problem in the Tri-State, many residents are not aware of the problem and believe common misperceptions about hunger.

“I think that there is a big misperception out there, and some people relate being hungry to being homeless or to not wanting to work,” said Brooke Ash, HAFB assistant director. “Some may think that there’s a choice in the matter. There’s not a choice in the matter.”

Jon Rickey, HAFB executive director, said he was not sure what he would experience going to a soup kitchen when he accepted the executive director position in 2002.

“I thought I might see people who were possibly trying to abuse the government system,” Rickey said. “And then, I went to food pantries and soup kitchens and realized that these clients were mainly hard-working people struggling to feed their families. There is a significant number of working parents, but they may only be making minimum wage. The costs of living cause them to come to soup kitchens and food pantries to survive.”

Ash said that when she and Rickey worked on The Hunger in America 2009 study, they had the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life struggling to put food on the table. The nationwide study was conducted from April to June 2009.

“I met a woman who has a master’s degree from Marshall who was attending the City Mission’s soup kitchen,” Ash said. “She had gotten sick and lost her job, and the health care expenses were so high that she basically lost everything. It just goes to show that it can happen to anyone at any time.”

In addition to adults struggling to make ends meet, Ash said children are often faced with the same hunger problem. Ash said she visited several child care centers in the Tri-State area to implement a backpack program to help feed hungry children. The program provides meals to children in the summer months when the children are not attending school.

“I was speaking with this one woman at a child care center, and she was so excited about the program,” Ash said. “She told me how much it was needed. She told me a story about this little boy who comes to her child care center. He only comes throughout the week and doesn’t come on the weekends. When he comes back on Mondays, he’s so hungry that he will try to put the pancakes in his pocket to take home. That broke my heart, and every time I’m having a bad day, I just fall back on the things I’ve seen.”

Public relations students from the W. Page Pitt School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Marshall University plan to fight hunger stereotypes with several events. Helping Hungry Hearts, a student-run PR campaign, will raise awareness about the HAFB and the hunger problem facing Tri-State residents.

“I personally believe that every student should be a part of one cause during their years at Marshall,” said Andre Jones, HHH co-director. “This is a good cause that will really reach out and touch other people. We gave a presentation to the food bank, and they were ecstatic. I truly believe that our slogan isn’t just a slogan. We really are taking one small step, and we can help one huge cause.”

For more information about Helping Hungry Hearts or the Outrunning Hunger 5K Run/Walk, please visit www.marshall.edu/helpinghungryhearts or e-mail the agency at helpinghungryhearts@marshall.edu. Also contact co-director Andre Jones at 540-226-1809. To learn more about the HAFB, please contact Ash at 304-523-6029 or brooke@hafb.org.