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Officials discuss food insecurity in Magoffin

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SALYERSVILLE – With the release last week of a study indicating that Magoffin County has the highest percentage of food insecurity, the Independent sat down with many of the top local officials to discuss the implications of the study and what it means for Magoffin County.

On May 1 Feeding Kentucky, a non-profit organization out of Berea, released a study, called Map the Meal Gap, that indicated 22.5 percent of Magoffin County’s population experiences food insecurity – or not knowing where their next meal will come from at some point during the year – compared to the state’s average of 15 percent. Children are the most susceptible to food insecurity, the study found, affecting 31.5 percent of children in Magoffin, according to the study, compared to the state’s average of 18 percent.

On Tuesday, May 7, the Independent met with Magoffin County Schools Superintendent Scott Helton, Magoffin County Judge-Executive Matt Wireman, Salyersville Mayor James “Pete” Shepherd and State Representative John Blanton to discuss the study and what it means for Magoffin.

Blanton explained that food insecurity is a broad term, meaning that people may not know where their next meal will come from, but that may happen once in a one-year span, and that it occurs most disproportionately with youth and elderly people. 

The Map the Meal Gap study uses data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and food price data and analysis provided by Nielsen, with the study supported by The Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Conagra Brands Foundation and Nielsen, according to the press release.

According to the study, 2,880 people in Magoffin County, 940 of which are children, have been food insecure in the past year, estimating the annual meal gap, or the amount of money lacking from the food budget to prevent food insecurity, at $491,500.  

To be clear, the study found food insecurity in every county in the state, with many counties having more people considered food insecure than Magoffin, as well a having a much larger annual meal gap, but with a smaller population, Magoffin reportedly has more than 1-in-5 people and nearly 1-in-3 children deemed as food insecure.

Blanton noted that they have been working to combat the issue through legislation, through Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles’ Hunger Initiative, which started in 2017. He said they have passed two bills to fight hunger in the state, one protecting restaurants and grocery stores from liabilities if they choose to donate leftover food, and the other allowing farmers with excess crops to be able to donate them and get tax credits, etc. 

“With so many things happening in urban areas, we had neglected to see Eastern Kentucky had more problems with food insecurity,” Blanton said. “Quarles’ Hunger Initiative has shifted the perspective to looking at the whole state.”

As for the release of the recent study, the officials were all on the same page.

“It’s alarming for us,” Helton said. “We realized we have issues, but did not expect the numbers to be that high.”

Blanton agreed, stating, “Everyone knows this is an issue, but realizing the issue is this prevalent – it’s not shocking, but concerning. Now that we know, we can address it by working together.”

The study left them with more questions than answers, at this point, however, with more information needed on how the statistics were gathered and where they need to go from here.

“We still need to find all the components to address the problems,” Wireman said. 

That’s not to say that they didn’t know food insecurity was a problem.

Helton explained that the schools offer three free meals a day to students: breakfast, lunch and a meal they can take home. 

“We need to do a better job with the after-school program,” Helton said. “Maybe if schools make a better effort, we’ll get more participation. The elementary schools have more success, but we may be able to get more kids to utilize the program.”

On numerous snow days this past winter, as well as during long breaks throughout the school year, Magoffin County Schools have sent out bag lunches throughout the county, hitting every community in the county, feeding 250 to 400 children each time. 

Plans are in the works to continue the summer feeding program this year, as well, with more to be released on the times and locations later this month.

More services are offered through the family and youth services center, located at each school, on a case-by-case basis, as well.

Shepherd, who is also the public health director at the Magoffin County Health Department, explained the health department offers the WIC program, which provides food for pregnant and new mothers and children up to five years old, and the HANDS program. 

The Magoffin County Senior Citizens, at the Lloyd M. Hall Community Center, offers Meals on Wheels, serving 50 people in the community. They hand out USDA commodities, handing out 185 boxes monthly (though they were just cut 30 boxes). They also offer meals at the senior center every weekday, serving 80 meals a day, on average. 

The Magoffin County Extension Office has the Backpack Program and the Grow Appalachia Program, currently, and are seeking grant opportunities to allow them to address food insecurities at the farmers’ market.

Courtney Jenkins with the Magoffin County Cooperative Extension Service told the Independent:

“The Backpack Program supports youth who may not have an adequate food supply outside of school, specifically through the weekend. If you need specifics, like how many kids we support, let me know and I’ll get you an exact number. 

“Grow Appalachia is a grant-funded program that I host that allows us to teach individuals and families how to raise their own fresh fruits and vegetables. We start with how to plan a garden, soil testing, and site preparation, and work all the way through weed/disease/pest management, proper harvesting and storing, as well as preservation. The funds are used to provide the participants with hand tools, fertilizer, seed, transplants, etc. 

“Another means of combating food insecurity through our office is working with the KY Department of Agriculture to train farmers’ market vendors to be eligible to accept WIC and Senior vouchers. In addition to the vouchers, I write a grant to Community Farm Alliance for a Double Dollars grant program that enables us to double up to $8 per day in WIC and Senior vouchers for the WIC and Senior vouchers recipients. For example, if the recipient spends $8 in vouchers, I give them $8 in Double Dollars to be spent at the market.”

The Department of Community Based Services Cabinet for Health and Family Services office has the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), with more information available at https://chfs.ky.gov/agencies/dcbs/dfs/nab/Pages/snap.aspx.

During the summer, the Dayton Group (University of Dayton Summer Appalachia Program) offers a lot of different things, including food during the summer, with more information at https://www.udayton.edu/ministry/csc/udsap/index.php.

Perhaps the largest resource in Magoffin is the Water Into Wine Food Pantry, based out of the Lakefront Church of God, on Route 30. They offer monthly distribution of food boxes in the USDA Commodity Program, God’s Food Pantry, Local Food Drives, Feed the Children, and Servants of Our Lord. They also have emergency food boxes, surplus items, senior commodities and the summer food program. Several organizations, such as the Christian Appalachian Program, works with Water Into Wine to be able to increase the services provided to participants in need of food. 

Helton, Wireman, Shepherd and Blanton all reiterated the same thing: if you’re feeling food insecure, reach out for help.

“Come to any one of us and we’ll direct you to all the resources we have,” Shepherd said. “We’ll make sure no one goes hungry.”

For more information about the study, including a summary of findings, an interactive map of the United States, and the full report, check out map.feedingamerica.org.  

 

Contact Numbers for Assistance

Magoffin County Health Department    
(WIC & HANDS Programs)    606-349-6212

Dept. for Community Based Services     
(SNAP)       606-349-3122 or 855-306-8959

Magoffin County Cooperative 
Extension Services    606-349-3216
(Backpack Program & Grow Appalachia Program)

Magoffin Co. Senior Citizens    606-349-5152
(Meals on Wheels, USDA Commodities, Meals at the Community Center)

Magoffin County Schools Family 
Resource Centers
Magoffin Co. High School    606-349-2145
North Magoffin Elementary    606-349-2934
Salyersville Grade School    606-349-1549
South Magoffin Elementary     606-884-7324
Herald Whitaker Middle School (Main Line)    606-349-5190

Lakefront Church of God’s     
Water Into Wine    606-349-6301
Food Pantry     

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Heather Oney