HAILEY — There has always been a need for a food bank in Blaine County. But lately, the people accessing it have had a different look in their eyes.
“We are seeing those people who have had too much pride before to walk through our doors,” said Jeanne Liston, executive director of The Hunger Coalition. “People don’t realize it could be their neighbors, and very well might be their neighbors, who are coming.”
As the national economic troubles have continued, many families have depleted their savings and run out of relatives and friends who can help.
“They’re down to nothing. All of their crisis backup plans are gone,” said Naomi Spence, food program manager for the agency. “We’re seeing families that have never asked for help and are using us as a last resort.”
Last year, for example, the agency distributed 175 baskets full of Thanksgiving goods; this year, 311 went out.
And the worst is yet to come.
“The second that we got the early snow and freeze, all of the landscaping was over,” Spence said. If the area doesn’t get a lot of snow and the tourist business that goes with it, service workers and snow removers will see their jobs disappear, and in February and March, the cost of heating and energy will have emptied a lot of bank accounts. “By then, they’ve used their savings from peak season, and they’re waiting until landscaping happens and construction. … We’re just praying for snow around here.”
The Hunger Coalition offers punch cards for its mobile food bank that last two to three months. THey come with counseling and connections to other area agencies to help families find a more permanent solution to their food needs.
“Because we’re not a government program, we don’t have a lot of red tape,” Spence said. “When they first come to us, it’s a pretty basic conversation about what brings them to us and educating them on additional resources that may be available to them.”
The Hunger Coalition also supplies weekly backpacks full of a weekend’s worth of food to needy students, and a summer weekday lunch program at local schools. It works with local real estate agencies to supply Christmas food baskets, offer Paws for Hunger to help families afford to keep their pets, and run a community garden to promote bilingualism and grow food to supplement donations.
The agency’s major need is for cash donations, because it is able to leverage those through the Idaho Food Bank to get food at six cents per pound or through Albertsons grocery stores for significant discounts.
“Food donations have been very good this year, and we need to make sure staples are available for families all year round,” Spence said, urging the community to donate. “Even small amounts of money can make a difference; it costs us 50 cents to hand out a meal.”
Ariel Hansen may be reached at 788-3475 or firstname.lastname@example.org.