On May 29, 1961, Alderson Muncy of Bradshaw in McDowell County received the first food stamps in the nation. Muncy, an unemployed miner and father of 15, took his stamps to John Henderson’s supermarket in Welch and bought two watermelons.
The new federal program was intended to provide supplemental income for welfare recipients and families below certain income levels. Because of high unemployment and poverty rates, West Virginia has been a focus of the program since its inception.
In his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy had visited West Virginia several times and was moved by the malnutrition and poverty he saw. As president, Kennedy established a pilot food-stamp program for low-income families. West Virginia was the first of eight states to issue stamps. The Food Stamp Act of 1964 made the program permanent, and West Virginia became the first state to implement it statewide.
The number of food-stamp recipients has always been high in West Virginia. As of 2015, nearly one in five West Virginians received food stamps—the sixth highest per capita total in the nation.