Mark and Virgie Hunter: A Labor of Love

Mediaon May 1st, 2017Comments Off on Mark and Virgie Hunter: A Labor of Love

Mark and Virgie Hunter: A Labor of LoveMark Hunter is hunched over a laptop in his office in a compact, single-story building in Portsmouth, Ohio.  Books and papers are stacked around him. He glances away from his computer and a smile lights up his face as he clears a spot for me on the chair next to him.  “I am writing a proposal,” he tells me as I settle into the chair. “It will help deliver food to even more kids.” I smile back at him.  I am used to Mark’s enthusiasm as well as his generosity.

Mark and Virgie Hunter embarked upon their mission to combat childhood hunger many years ago under the most horrific circumstances. In 2006, they tragically lost their son Steven at age 21 to a rare and undetected heart condition.  Steven had a passion for helping those who were less fortunate.  And Portsmouth unfortunately had a high poverty rate. So, at his funeral, in lieu of flowers, Mark and Virgie considered it fitting to ask for donations to help students at Steven’s high school with shoes, clothes and other basic needs. What started out as an attempt to assist a few neighborhood kids quickly gained momentum and led to the founding of the Steven A. Hunter Hope Fund. In the first few years, the Hope Fund focused on purchasing shoes, clothes, coats and school supplies for high school students.

In 2009, Mark and Virgie came to the realization that they needed to do more.  It was obvious to them that many of the children in local schools struggled with hunger over the weekend.  Around the same time, Virgie heard about Freestore Foodbank’s Power Pack Program (packs of food that are sent home with kids on Friday so they can have something to eat over the weekend).  Mark and Virgie decided to make a trip to Cincinnati to meet with the Freestore Foodbank and explore options for distributing Power Packs in Scioto County.  “The Freestore Foodbank had a well-planned program in place with an efficient delivery mechanism. In addition, they were able to assure us that their Power Packs contained safe and nutritious food items purchased specifically for the program. Their tried and tested approach drew our attention and we immediately decided to partner with them,” Mark explains.

Mark and Virgie Hunter: A Labor of LoveIn January 2010, Mark and Virgie launched their partnership with the Freestore Foodbank by distributing Power Packs to 90 students in two elementary schools in Scioto County.  It did not take long for the community to rally behind their cause. Mark and Virgie continue to raise money for their efforts through fundraisers, walkathons and tennis tournaments.  They currently distribute 44,000 Power Packs in 18 schools in Scioto, Pike and Adams counties during the school year.  “Virgie and I couldn’t do this alone,” Mark remarks.  “We are so blessed to live in a community that wholeheartedly supports us.”

Beth Born is the Principal of Portsmouth Elementary School where 97% of the students qualify for the free lunch program. “The Power Pack program is a lifeline for our students,” she says. “The students look forward to taking them home on Friday. Most of them depend on their Power Pack to meet their basic need for food over the weekend.” Students who struggle with hunger often display symptoms such as low energy, short attention span and the inability to focus. “Many of our students do better academically and are more confident once they get in the program,” remarks Angela Byers-Johnson, third grade intervention specialist. There is currently a waiting list at Portsmouth Elementary to get in the program.

In addition to helping hundreds of kids, this unique endeavor has given the Hunters a purpose in life and a way to channel their grief towards something positive.  “Our work brings smiles into our lives amidst the tears. Being around kids, seeing their faces light up and knowing that we are able to make a difference – that makes all of this worth it.” Mark smiles wistfully as he turns back to his computer to hammer out yet another proposal to help hungry children in Ohio.

You can also be a partner in Freestore Foodbank’s fight against childhood hunger. To find out how, click here.