From the Field

Fresh food helps West Virginia family feed children during pandemic

Four-year-old Phoenix in West Virginia was giddy with delight when she saw cucumbers in the Fresh Food Box she received from World Vision through its partnership with Mountain Heart Community Services.

Medena Lester was out making food deliveries to families in Wyoming County, West Virginia. She pulled up to the Williams home and 4-year-old Phoenix and her mother, Patience, came outside to greet her. Phoenix opened up the boxes Medena delivered and started looking through them. She went straight for the cucumbers, grabbing one then running inside to show her two older brothers.

“She seen those cucumbers and she about flipped,” says Patience. “She lit up like a doggone Christmas tree.”

The produce delivery is part of World Vision’s Fresh Food Box distributions taking place across much of the country to help families especially hard-hit as a result of COVID-19.

World Vision recently partnered with the USDA and distributors as part of the USDA’s Farmers to Families program. Many U.S. farmers grow crops for specific vendors like restaurants, sports arenas, or vacation spots. With many of those locations closed or open with limited hours, farmers have nowhere to ship their food. The USDA connects those farmers with food distributors, who in turn ensure that the food goes to nonprofits so it can reach vulnerable families.

World Vision is one of the nonprofit organizations, relying on local churches and community organizations to get the Fresh Food Boxes quickly into the hands of families who need them most.

“They’ve been such a blessing because a lot of the families that received these boxes, they don’t get fresh produce on a regular basis. They don’t have access to these items at their neighborhood store. It’s really been life-changing,” says Reed Slattery, the national director for World Vision’s U.S. Programs.

“You don’t want those babies going hungry”

In Wyoming County, World Vision partners with Medena, the family and community engagement specialist for Mountain Heart Community Services. “I was very fortunate to find World Vision, and they are a blessing to us,” says Medena. In fact, they’ve partnered for nearly four years helping to provide essential items to families that Mountain Heart serves.

Many families in this community battle poverty made worse by the opioid crisis. Coal mining is a leading employer, but jobs have been harder to come by over the past couple of years. “Opportunities aren’t plentiful,” she says.

There are no traffic lights here, no public transportation, and no hospital. There are three small grocery stores, but they’re owned by the same company and prices are high. Some families with access to transportation prefer to drive nearly 45 minutes to the nearest Wal-Mart because of cheaper prices. But other families don’t own cars so Medena makes food deliveries to families in Mountain Heart’s Head Start program.

“Early on we develop a relationship with these families,” she says. “We learned their needs. You don’t want those babies going hungry.”

Phoenix is one of Medena’s Head Start children.

Earning half what they made before COVID-19

Before COVID-19 spread across the world, Phoenix and her family had just moved into a new home. Patience’s husband, Bobby, worked on oil and gas rigs to support his family. Even though he had to be away for months at a time, when he came home, he was fully present. But like so many millions of Americans, he got laid off when his job shut down. Now he works two jobs in town — home healthcare and construction — and barely makes half of what he did before. He’s gone much of the day and into the evening. When he comes home, he’s often too exhausted to do much more than eat and fall into bed.

“I could make those bills with no issue before having a little bit left over. Now we’re pinching pennies and making sure we’re watching our money very closely. It’s affected everything,” says Patience about their post-COVID struggles.

When the first Fresh Food boxes arrived, the family was still waiting for their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps) benefits. “We weren’t out of food, but we were running low,” says Patience. “From the bottom of my heart I really appreciate it.”

The fresh produce makes her children very happy, which in turn makes Patience happy. She feels lucky because each of her children really loves fresh fruit and vegetables. Perhaps that’s because they always grew their own in their old home. But this year with the move and the pandemic hitting, they didn’t have the chance to plant one.

Fresh Food Boxes help family get through hard times

Patience guards her children’s health and happiness. “They are the ones that I wasn’t supposed to have,” she says. She has polycystic ovarian disease, which meant she wasn’t supposed to give birth. But here are three miracles, and so she fights especially hard to keep them safe and healthy, especially during this time.

They in turn are a part of the trinity that keep Patience going during the coronavirus pandemic — her kids, her husband, and her faith. She says, “If I was doing it by myself, I would’ve broke a long time ago; I’m not going to lie.

“It’s been a crazy year. Everything’s changed. How society deals with everything has changed. You used to see smiling faces and now you can only see twinkling eyes if they smile at you.”

Mask or no mask, those smiles are evident on the faces of the Williams family and others who have received World Vision’s Fresh Food Boxes. And things might be turning the corner for them. Bobby has put in applications for another job with the gas and oil company. They’re waiting to hear word.

Until they do the fresh food helps the family get through. Patience says, “This too shall pass. It might pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass.”

Medena has a message of thanks for the donors: “As long as they’re willing to make the donation, we are willing to put our feet to the floor to get it out to the families in need. I would just like to let them know that they are blessings. They are providing food that a lot of the kids have never seen or don’t get to eat.”

And for Phoenix in West Virginia — that food just happens to be cucumbers.

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