Striking W.Va. teachers won't let students go hungry
West Virginia's teachers are refusing to go to school for a fourth day Tuesday in protest of pay that is among the lowest in the nation. Teachers are on strike in all 55 West Virginia counties and rallied outside the state capitol on Monday. (Feb. 27) AP
West Virginia teacher Kevin Green wants to make sure that none of his students go hungry just because he is on strike.
Green, who teaches at River View High School in Bradshaw, was among 20,000 teachers across the state who walked out Feb. 22. He says he fully supports the strike — and his students. That's why he's been working on the McDowell County "Blessings in a Backpack" program.
The program normally sends a backpack full of food home with students from low-income families to help ensure the kids get nourishment on the weekends. Green and about 30 teachers joined school board members, students and others who packed the bags for distribution to families of the needy.
"Of course we offered to bag the food," Green told USA TODAY. "We are ready to help in any way we can. This is all about our kids."
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice had he expected striking teachers will return to the classroom March 1 after he offered teachers and school service personnel a 5% pay raise in the first year. The deal got hung up in the Legislature, however, and the teachers remained out Monday.
Many students rely on subsidized meals at school to meet minimum nutritional requirements. Jennifer Wood, spokeswoman for the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said teachers across the state worked with local community groups, churches and food pantries to provide bags of food they sent home with students before the strike.
And many teachers are continuing the effort during the strike, she said. Some in Marion County were delivering food packages to families door-to-door.
"They are pooling resources, sometimes with their own money, and putting together packets of soup, mac and cheese, food cups," Wood said.
Linda Vannest manages the cafeteria at Ripley Elementary School. In Jackson County, a "Snack Pack" program sends food home with kids on the weekend. The packs contain enough food for the kids, but not their entire families. Vannest said some kids are forced to hide the food in their rooms to make sure they get something to eat.
With the strike looming, teachers had sent enough food for a week home with the needy kids.
"When we knew we were going on strike we upped our game," Vannest said.
The teachers gathered again to put together new packs last week. Donations from teachers and their supporters paid for the food. Since the packs can't be distributed to the kids at school, teachers helped deliver them to homes.
"We don't want these kids to suffer any more than they already do," Vannest said.