By Del Duduit
The COVID-19 pandemic is taking its toll on the area businesses and communities all over the nation. But a Portsmouth foundation is making sure that kids in Southern Ohio do not go hungry
That is the mission of Mark and Virgie Hunter, who founded and operate Steven’s Power Pack program under the umbrella of the Steven A Hunter Hope Fund.
The fund was established in January of 2006, in memory of their son, Steven, who died suddenly at the age of 21 from an undetected heart disorder while he was at Milligan University in Tennessee.
Steven was a 2003 graduate of Portsmouth High School and an accomplished tennis player.
His smile and enthusiasm inspired those around him, and living by his strong Christian faith, he spent his life trying to encourage others; helping those in need, not only of resources, but also of friendship. His parents felt the need to keep his acts of kindness alive and help area students.
Southern Ohio has its economic issues, and many students receive a state-funded lunch.
The Power Pack Program sends back packs full of food home for the weekend for more than 1,300 elementary students in the area, in three surrounding counties of Scioto, Pike and Adams.
But now schools have been closed because of the virus for the remainder of the academic year and that has brought another challenge to Mark and Virgie.
“In the beginning of this pandemic, I was worried about the mechanics of getting the power packs to the students, and I reached out to a few of the schools,” he said. “But they have all come up with different and unique ways to make sure the students get their food, and their power packs. They have been fantastic.”
One aspect that Mark was concerned about was the FreeStore Foodbank in Cincinnati, which makes and delivers the power packs to Steven’s Hope Fund in Scioto County, about two hours away.
“They had to shut down their packing operations as far as bringing in the large number of volunteers because of COVID-19” he said. “That was a big adjustment.”
In early April, Mark, who works full time at the Hunter-Williams Insurance Agency, said he and some volunteers from Portsmouth City Schools and Lifepoint Church had to pack about two weeks-worth of power packs because of the shutdown.
Some schools that could store a month’s supply were in good shape, but there were others who were out of the power packs.
“We’ve been trying to get more food in to make things better for our kids,” he said. “But we know God always provides. It’s just been a challenge.”
One need that was met was when the Ohio National Guard delivered 34,000 pounds of extra food for students in Scioto County.
“That was a big answer to prayer,” he said. “They were very substantial, and each box had 30 to 35 pounds of food, in addition to their normal Power Packs.”
The other area of concern that lingers in the back of Mark and Virgie’s minds will be donations for the foundation this year.
The Steven A. Hunter Hope Fund is a non-profit charity that operates on faith.
“All of our big annual events right now have all been canceled because of the pandemic,” Mark said. “It might be a rough year and I have looked at applying for some grants to help us through the next few months to offset the lack of fundraising.”
But people have recognized how important the Power Pack Program is to local schools, and some have stepped up to help.
For example, The Friends of Portsmouth organization, which is home to Mark and Virgie, donated $10,000 to the cause. And others have stepped up to the plate.
“That was such a blessing,” Mark said. “People will rise up and help a good cause.”
He feels confident he will be able to stay focused through the middle of May, when school typically dismisses for the year.
But this has not be the typical school year.
“We have never seen anything like this before and our mission is to make sure the kids enrolled in the power pack program stay fed,” he said. “There are a lot of hungry kids out there who need us.”
Mark and Virgie have poured their hearts into this foundation to honor their son. They have worked to ensure young children are fed when they go home for the weekend through the Power Pack program.
They are determined not to let a pandemic stop their mission.
What do you do to help those around you in need?
Del Duduit is an award-winning writer and author who lives in Lucasville, Ohio with his wife, Angie. They attend Rubyville Community Church. Follow his blog at delduduit.com/blog and his Twitter @delduduit. He is represented by Cyle Young of Hartline Literary Agency.