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  • Writer's pictureSteven Keith

Food bank, health provider team up to feed those in need

With the holidays upon us, it’s easy to get caught up with visions of Thanksgiving turkey and dressing – and Christmas ham and sugarplums – dancing in our heads.

Mountaineer Food Bank serves 48 of WV's 55 counties.
Mountaineer Food Bank serves 48 of WV's 55 counties.

Most of us will be surrounded by so much food over the next month, in fact, that it may be hard to remember that more than 215,000 West Virginians (over 63,000 of them children) currently face food insecurity due to lack of availability, difficult access or high cost.

The widower who isn’t able to drive. A veteran or single mom whose closest grocery store is 45 minutes away. A family who sacrifices fresh fruits and vegetables to pay unexpected medical bills.

Packing meal boxes at Mountaineer Food Bank
Packing meal boxes at Mountaineer Food Bank

Food banks work tirelessly to meet the needs of these individuals every day of the year, but those efforts take on an extra-special meaning around the holidays, when food takes center stage at celebrations – and we’re all a little more mindful of those in need.

To help in the fight against hunger, West Virginia managed care provider The Health Plan has partnered with Mountaineer Food Bank in Gassaway, which collects enough food to deliver 17 million meals annually to recipients in 48 of the state’s 55 counties.

“The Health Plan is the only West Virginia company providing Medicaid coverage in the state so we have an inherent interest in seeing our members succeed and be healthy, because they are our friends and neighbors,” said Megan Roskovensky, the organization’s Director of Government Affairs.

A meal box ready for delivery
A meal box ready for delivery

“In a rural state like West Virginia with an aging population, access to fresh and healthy foods can be more of a challenge than many realize, especially if someone has a restricted diet.”

In an effort to keep members healthy, The Health Plan has partnered with Mountaineer Food Bank on a pilot program called “Food for Health.”

“So if one of our Medicaid recipients goes to the doctor and is diagnosed with heart disease, diabetes or some other condition, the doctor puts that patient in touch with the food bank to receive special boxes supporting their dietary needs.

Both organizations recently invited me up to Mountaineer Food Bank’s warehouse in Braxton County, where I was part of a group of volunteers who took a tour of the large facility, learned more about food insecurity and packed dozens of meal kits to be delivered later that day.

One of the volunteers I met there was Jeanette Williams, Mountain Health Trust Coordinator for The Health Plan, who described the experience as not only rewarding – but also a real eye-opener.

Warehouse at Mountaineer Food Bank
Warehouse at Mountaineer Food Bank

“I knew the food bank was a place that helped distribute food to those who needed it, but I always thought that was just old canned foods people donated that they didn’t want,” Williams explained, adding that she’s now discovered it’s so much more than she ever imagined.

“The food that is being distributed here isn’t some dented cans from your neighbor’s cabinets.”

As she helped pack boxes that day, she found the food options to be fresh, healthy and full of variety.

“That was especially meaningful to me, because I have been in a situation where I needed to go to a church or other organizations to get food to put on the table. If it weren’t for food banks like this, I don’t know how I would have been able to provide for my family some days when all the money was going to pay bills or something else. I am so thankful for Mountaineer Food Bank and The Health Plan for letting me get more involved.”

Mountaineer Food Bank in Gassaway, WV
Mountaineer Food Bank in Gassaway, WV

You probably already know that West Virginia’s motto is Montani Semper Liberi, which means “Mountaineers are Always Free?” Well, there’s another phrase I hope you’ll take to heart this season: Montani Semper Curam Invicem.

That one means “Mountaineers Always Take Care of Each,” and you can help do just that by dedicating your time, talents or treasures to Mountaineer Food Bank or a host of other charitable organizations across the region.

Does turkey make you sleepy?

Speaking of the holidays, is there any truth to the long-held belief that eating turkey for Thanksgiving dinner actually makes you sleepy? researcher Morgan Pfiffner says … well, not exactly.

Yes, it’s true that every November millions of Americans gather around the table to fill up on mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, creamed corn, cranberry sauce and, of course, turkey. And yes, such overindulgence often leads to a post-meal food coma that makes many people drowsy.

Volunteers at Mountaineer Food Bank
Volunteers at Mountaineer Food Bank

That sleepiness is often blamed on a substance called tryptophan, which is a naturally occurring amino acid found in turkey. But it’s also found in many other meats and proteins in comparable amounts, says Pfiffner, who holds a master’s degree in nutrition.

While the human body does use tryptophan to make serotonin, one of the “feel-good” hormones that calms and relaxes the body, we don’t consume nearly enough of it in a few servings of turkey to make a difference.

So what’s the real reason you get drowsy on turkey day? It’s not so much what you eat, but how much. And for that, we can actually blame another substance.

Thanksgiving dinner is usually a large meal – loaded with carbs, fat, and protein – and when all those calories reach your intestines, a chemical called CCK (cholecystokinin) is released.

That’s what makes you feel “full,” which signals your brain that you’ve had enough, prompting it to start slowing your body down and – you guessed it – making you feel sleepy.

It's not nearly as fun to say at tryptophan, but CCK may be to blame (or thank!) for Thursday’s afternoon nap.

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Steven Keith is a food writer and restaurant critic known as “The Food Guy” who writes a weekly column for the Charleston Gazette-Mail and has appeared in several state, regional and national culinary publications. Follow him online at or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. He can be reached at 304-380-6096 or at

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