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Weaving a Food Safety Net

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Written By David Ryan

According to the Food Research Action Council, 22 percent of households in West Virginia had difficulty accessing food last year. A variety of State-sponsored programs work to narrow food access gaps, but private emergency food assistance providers have increasingly become a coping strategy for struggling families. 

Thanks to WV FOODLINK, a project of the Food Justice Laboratory housed in the Department of Geology and Geography, things are changing. With the goal of developing a resource hub and learning commons to increase access to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food, the project has created its new website. It offers easy access for residents, social workers, educators and policy-makers looking to quickly and accurately assess various food assistance programs, map food insecurities and get the latest news on related topics in their communities. 

Before FOODLINK, all of this information was “completely invisible,” said Bradley Wilson, director of WV FOODLINK and assistant professor of geography. “There was no public resource for sharing information about food assistance in West Virginia. You might know that a local food pantry existed if you lived in that community. But if you moved to a new county or didn’t know the area, you might have to go to five different places to find that information. Now you can just go online.” 

In addition to locating local food charities such as soup kitchens, food pantries and meal delivery programs, WV FOODLINK has also mapped the location and hours of commercial retailers that accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women, Infant and Children (WIC) benefits, as well as the state offices where residents can sign up to gain access to those public services. 

The interactive map is complemented by the WV FOODLINK Atlas, a resource that visualizes data from different sources to highlight and discuss the complex food access puzzle that struggling families face on a day-to-day basis. The hope is that the atlas will spur conversations around community food sourcing strategies at the local, county and state level and bring the many parties involved in the “food safety net” in West Virginia into the dialogue. 

In addition to those who may need assistance, the website is a hub for the emergency food network to share information and plan for the future. Inter-agency communication is not always easy, Wilson said, and WV FOODLINK hopes to assist with future planning. 

“That’s the core of what we’ve been trying to do – build a resource hub for people in need, and the agencies that serve them. We hope to restart a conversation around hunger and food insecurity in the state of West Virginia.” 

WV FOODLINK is funded by a Public Service Grant from West Virginia University, the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, the Appalachian Foodshed Project, the Sister’s Health Foundation and the Parkersburg Area Foundation. 

The Food Justice Lab develops global action research projects on food insecurity and promotes resilient food economies based on equity, democracy and justice in Appalachia and Central America. 

You can follow WV FOODLINK on Twitter @wvfoodlink or facebook.com/ wvfoodlink. And visit foodlink.wvu.edu for more information. 

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