For more than 57 years, Heart and Hand House in Philippi, West Virginia, has played a vital role in the health and wellbeing of Barbour County residents, providing support for their physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional needs through a variety of programs and services.
The house opened in 1965 as an experimental ministry with seed money from the Women’s Division of the Evangelical United Brethren Church to address the needs of those facing hunger and uncertainty due to unemployment. The ministry, which is now affiliated with the United Methodist Church, has since grown to offer many services, including emergency assistance, a food pantry, garden market, home repair and construction program, baby pantry, Christmas box program, two thrift stores, and a backpack program.
In 2021, the Pallottine Foundation of Buckhannon partnered with Heart and Hand House to provide a series of in-school Kids’ Markets throughout Barbour County. The markets empower children to make healthy food choices, educate them about the importance of healthy foods, and show them how to prepare meals using fresh produce.
“Studies show early and repeated education about nutrition can help empower children to make better choices that could lead to healthier adult lives,” said Brenda Hunt, executive director of Heart and Hand House. “The markets provide an opportunity for elementary school children to try fresh fruits and vegetables that they choose themselves, and to see how they can be prepared in an environment that is inviting, fun, and engaging.”
The $7,200 Healthy Communities grant from the Foundation provided 6,470 pounds of fresh produce to more than 1,800 students who shopped at Kids’ Markets between September and November 2021. Heart and Hand House worked with WVU Extension Service to educate students on various topics relating to nutrition, such as “Rethink your Drink,” which focuses on sugar-added drink education, and “My Plate,” which emphasizes portion control and increased fruit and vegetable consumption.
Many individuals, including children, in Barbour County suffer from chronic diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity due to poor nutrition and a high poverty rate. Fresh fruits and vegetables are often seen as too expensive for families who are trying to stretch their income and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
“Families end up eating meals that consist of foods that are high in fats and sugars,” Hunt noted. “Children in these households may have limited opportunity to try, or have limited access to, fresh fruits and vegetables. As a result, they are reluctant to eat these foods when they are available because they think they won’t like them. By giving kids the opportunity to shop for and try produce in an atmosphere like the Kids’ Market, they learn that fruits and vegetables aren’t ‘yucky’ … they’re actually good!”
The Kids’ Markets have been well received by both students and educators in Barbour County, Hunt said. Students have been excited to shop for produce and look forward to the next market day, while educators have been impressed by the kids’ positive responses.
“One young shopper was especially excited to get a green pepper for his family because he’d heard his mother say that she wanted to buy one at the store, but they were too expensive,” Hunt said. “And a teacher complimented the program, reporting that after the Kids’ Markets, their school couldn’t keep enough apples in the cafeteria because kindergarten students were fighting over them!”
The Kids’ Markets also support local farmers through the purchase of fruits and vegetables from Heart and Hand’s Community Garden Market in downtown Philippi. The consignment-style market gives farmers an income opportunity and increases the availability of fresh, local produce.
Hunt said she and the staff at Heart and Hand House see the markets as a great way to provide ongoing education to children about how to make good nutritional choices. She hopes to continue offering the program each fall to children in Barbour County schools.
Heart and Hand House received a second Healthy Communities grant from the Foundation to provide produce and shopping bags for another round of Kids’ Markets in Barbour County during the 2022-2023 school year. The grant also included $2,000 for staff training, team building, and strategic planning.
For more information about Heart and Hand House, visit www.heartandhandhouse.org.