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Shelf-stable donation items are always a good choice.

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Feeding Idaho

The Idaho Foodbank's strive to create a hunger-free state

Article by Jordan Gray

Photography by The Idaho Foodbank

Originally published in Boise Lifestyle

In Karen Vauk’s ideal world, the building at 3630 East Commercial Court in Meridian would be a skating rink, a basketball court, or an activity center.  

But Vauk, The Idaho Foodbank President and CEO, knows that won’t be a reality until food insecurity doesn’t exist in our state. Until then, the Meridian facility will serve as The Idaho Foodbank headquarters as it carries out its mission to create a hunger-free Idaho.  

It’s a mission The Idaho Foodbank has pursued since 1984. In that time, it’s distributed millions of pounds of food — 30.9 million pounds in the 2020-2021 fiscal year alone. The food goes out to food-insecure Idahoans through a 465-plus partner network, which includes food pantries, shelters, schools, senior centers, Mobile Pantry partners, communities, and churches. 

What does food insecurity look like? 

“Food insecurity is when someone doesn’t have access to enough financial ability or food to live a healthy and active lifestyle,” Vauk said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean they are hungry every day or that they are destitute, but it’s just not enough so they can cover all the living expenses and provide for themselves and their family so they can all stay healthy.” 

Citing numbers from Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, Vauk said 1 in 9 Idahoans and 1 in 8 Idaho children experience food insecurity. 

The issue only increases in the winter months.  

"We can look to other household expenses to increase during the winter months, like heating bills, tires, and clothes for the kids — things that can really pinch an already tight budget,” Vauk said. “There’s also always the holidays. Food’s a big part of our holidays. So, we always want to make sure families have the opportunity to celebrate by having food on the table.” 

As plans for greater food distribution ramp up, the Meridian headquarters (which opened in October 2020) has helped meet the increased need.  

“The new space has been absolutely wonderful,” Vauk said. “The timing was perfect; not that we planned to have that expansion space to accommodate a pandemic.” 

The facility boasts 10,000 square feet of freezer space, an expansive warehouse, and is close to the freeway. 

“It’s the right type of space. Because of our emphasis on nutritious food, we needed a vast expansion of cooler and refrigerated spaces for a lot of those frozen meats and other healthy items.” Vauk added, “It’s also giving us easier access to (areas) where we have local partners to help distribute the food.” 

Idaho Foodbank headquarters also includes a unique space: a teaching kitchen.  

“We’re really excited to be able to start up our cooking classes,” Vauk said. “The program is really targeted toward those struggling with food security who may not have had that kind of education around preparing healthy foods on a limited budget. The curriculum includes a trip to a store on how to shop on a budget and get the best value." 

As with any nonprofit organization, The Idaho Foodbank relies on community help, ranging from cash to time to food.  

“Monetary donations are incredibly beneficial,” Vauk said. “We have an easy way to make donations through our website. For every dollar that’s donated, we’re able to provide enough food for four meals.” 

Time is another way you can give.  

"One of the ways we’re able to keep our expenses down is to rely on the generosity of people giving their time. Idahoans are amazing in their generosity,” Vauk said. “We make it really very easy for people to come in and volunteer. And it’s fun!” 

You can sign up for a volunteer shift by visiting IdahoFoodBank.org. Kids as young as 8 can participate, with volunteers 15 and younger welcome when accompanied by an adult volunteer.

“We encourage community groups, church groups, and families to come in and volunteer,” Vauk said. “All of that additional support is what helps us to get the food out to the families in need. If you don’t have a group to come with, you can come meet other great people from the community.” 

And of course, donated food is always appreciated. 

“It’s important people in need have food, but it’s most important that they have healthy, nutritious food,” Vauk said. “We really emphasize fruits and vegetables and whole grains: the nutrition categories. Last year, 87 percent of the food that was donated was nutritious." 

Think shelf-stable items that pair well with the fresh produce, milk, and protein The Idaho Foodbank receives through food grocers and local partnerships. Items like fruits canned in juice or extra light syrup, whole grain pasta, brown rice, canned or dried beans, and pantry staples like spices, cooking oils, and flour are always sought after. The Idaho Foodbank even offers a food drive kit on its website so you can set up a drive that nets healthy, nutritious food for Idahoans. 

Until a hunger-free Idaho is a reality, Vauk said, “The Idaho Foodbank will continue to be responsive to the needs of the state.” 

EVENTS 

Idaho Foodbank events offer another way to help. There’s the annual A Chefs’ Affaire, and here in November, Empty Bowls. Virtual again this year, visit the Events section of idahofoodbank.org for details on getting your artisan-painted bowl.

ORGANIZATION INFO  The Idaho Foodbank; 3630 E Commercial St, Meridian, ID 83642; 208.336.9643; idahofoodbank.org

  • Volunteers building backpacks of food for local kids.
  • Shelf-stable donation items are always a good choice.
  • Volunteers from the Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine (ICOM) pose for a shot outside after their volunteer shift.
  • Meridian and Boise mayors repacking pears at the Meridian Idaho Foodbank facility at the end of 2020.
  • Backpack Build Volunteers