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Thousands of West Virginia teachers attend a rally at the state Capitol in Charleston, W.Va., Monday, Feb. 26, 2018. Teachers across West Virginia will continue a walkout over pay and benefits for a fourth day.
John Raby/AP
NewsFood & Hunger

Teachers in West Virginia Made Sure Kids Had Food to Eat During Statewide Strike

As West Virginia’s statewide teachers’ strike enters its fourth day, teachers are making sure that students don’t go hungry. 

In the absence of school, some teachers have set up food distribution points for students in food insecure households, CNN reports

“Before they made the decision to strike they wanted to make sure their students' needs were taken care of,” Jennifer Wood, spokesperson for the American Federation of Teachers union, told CNN

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Two in three West Virginia students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, according to the West Virginia Department of Education, and overall the state is ranked 38th in the nation for food security, with 15% of households food insecure between 2013 and 2015

For some students, not going to school could mean days of missing one or more meals, a food bank volunteer, Erin Rouse, told ABC 7 News

“There’s nothing at home for them,” Rouse said. “If they don’t have the food that’s provided from these meals, they don’t have anything.” 

Read More: All 680 of West Virginia’s Schools Are Closed as Teachers Strike for Wages, Health Care

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West Virginia teachers began their strike last Thursday, calling for higher wages and better healthcare. The strike came after Gov. Jim Justice proposed a 2% raise to go into effect in July, increasing to a 4% raise within three years — which teachers say is not enough to cover rising costs of living. 

Although schools closed again Tuesday, Dale Lee, the president of the West Virginia Education Association, a teachers’ union, told CNN that talks between unions and state government leaders were “making some progress.” 

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In the meantime, teachers haven’t been the only group to step up to provide food for to the more than 180,000 students that benefit from free school lunch programs.

Churches and food pantries across the state opened their doors to hungry students, West Virginia MetroNews reports

“When we saw [the strike] was going to go on longer, we do a daily message from the church and we just included that in the daily message and people are responding very generously,” Freeda Canterbury, an administrative assistant at a church in Parkersburg, told MetroNews

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Missing out on meals can have serious implications on student performance, studies have shown.  

Kids who come from food insecure backgrounds are less likely to graduate high school, tend to score lower on math and reading assessments, and are at a higher risk of developing chronic illnesses later in life, which could affect future educational opportunities, according to Children’s HealthWatch

The USDA reports that nearly one in five children nationwide live in food-insecure households, making feeding American students a problem that will last even after the teachers’ strike inevitably ends.