Between changes to food policy and a local food pantry closure, hunger is alarmingly high in Kanawha County. As a state, West Virginia struggles with some of the highest food insecurity in the country. Statewide, 14 percent of households are considered food insecure, compared to 10.2 percent of the U.S. population. With the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency earlier this year came a return to pre-pandemic food assistance policies like time limits on benefits for some of our state’s most vulnerable.
Throughout the pandemic, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP, also known as food stamps) helped West Virginians make ends meet by temporarily increasing their benefits and pausing restrictions that make food more challenging to access. In spring 2023, the federal government officially ended the public health emergency, reversing those flexibilities and others, and residents have felt that blow in recent months.
In October 2023, over 24,000 West Virginians who rely on SNAP, so-called “able-bodied adults without dependents,” were at risk of losing food assistance due to the reinstatement of SNAP time limits and work reporting requirements that are shown to hinder their access to food while failing to increase employment. In October 2023, the first month the regulation went back into effect, over 1,500 individuals in Kanawha County alone lost their SNAP benefits.
Local food pantries also feel the squeeze as folks facing food insecurity turn to them to bridge the gap. Manna Meal, Charleston’s largest charitable food provider, served more meals in October than in any recent month in history–not coincidentally the first month SNAP time limit restrictions were reinstated . Many of their clients fall into the group affected by the changes to SNAP, as time limits disproportionately impact the unhoused population, residents with mental and physical limitations, those who lack transportation, and those experiencing other significant barriers to work. Beyond food, Manna Meal provides a warm, safe space for residents to build community. It has been an integral part of the safety net in the state’s capital for nearly 50 years.
Last week, Manna Meal had to suspend meal services at a downtown church, transitioning to food truck service, which the charity’s leader described as “not sustainable.” Overnight, the soup kitchen went from serving 619 daily meals to just 217. Manna Meal confirmed in an email exchange with the WVCBP that in subsequent days they are still serving far fewer meals out of the food truck than they were able to provide at the Quarrier Street church location.
Recent political threats further impact Manna Meal’s ability to reach vulnerable populations, with a push to close their location in downtown Charleston just as federal and state policies limit SNAP food assistance for this same population.
Please help our community retain critical access to food. Sign the petition calling on stakeholders to find a way to keep all Charlestonians safe while remaining at the Quarrier Street location and stay updated on the news regarding the pantry.
 Email exchange between WVCBP staff and Manna Meal staff on November 14, 2023.
 Email and phone conversations between author and DHHR representative Ashley Puffenbarger on November 13, 2023.
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