Hunger persists amidst wealthy resort
Hunger Coalition formed to
combat empty bellies
"I love doing this. I became involved
because I was asked to do this, and I saw that there was a need. To lose this
would be a huge loss to the community. For some of these people, theyíre the
only meals they get all week."
ó LYNN FLICKINGER, Co-coordinator
of the Souper Supper Dining Room, Blaine Countyís only soup kitchen
"The goal of the Hunger Coalition isnít
just to feed people. Itís to help people move from dependency to self-reliance
and self-sufficiency through self-dependence. The root of hunger isnít hungry
stomachs. The root of hunger is poverty and injustice."
ó TOM ISELIN, Founder and Director,
Blaine County Hunger Coalition
By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer
Amidst Blaine Countyís abundant wealth and
the resort areaís reputation as an elitist backwater for financial tycoons,
there are a growing number of people here who live below poverty levels or who
are considered by government classifications as "working poor."
The Souper Supper Dining Room serves
hot meals to Blaine Countyís hungry residents every Monday and Thursday.
Pati Sprague, head Souper Linda Van Der Meulen and Jennifer Halverson work to
put together a chili dinner last Thursday. Express photo by David N. Seelig
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 7.8
percent of Blaine Countyís population was living in poverty in 1999, compared
with 11.8 percent in the state of Idaho at the same time. The national average
poverty rate was about 11 percent in 1999 and 12.1 percent this fall.
The number of people living in poverty,
however, does not also represent those who are going hungry each week, said Tom
Iselin, founder and director of the Blaine County Hunger Coalition. A new
organization, it is designed to create a network of state, private and local
agencies and volunteers to help put an end to hunger in Blaine County.
"There are kids here who go all weekend
without food, but what we donít have here is a larger percentage of people who
are flat-out starving," the 42-year-old Ketchum resident said. "You see, we have
only a handful of starving people here, but we have an abundance of working
poor. It really makes my skin crawl to see kids who are hungry. Kids are the
most helpless, but most hopeful, population."
As another illustration, between 2002 and
2003, the number of meals served each month at the Souper Supper Dining Room,
Blaine Countyís only soup kitchen, increased 30 percent.
"I believe we are only touching the tip of
the iceberg," said Lynn Flickinger, co-coordinator of the soup kitchen. "I think
there are teenagers and families out there who are hungry, and we donít see
Flickinger said the Souper Supper Dining
Room, which serves meals to anyone who walks through the door on Monday and
Thursday evenings at St. Charles Catholic Church in Hailey, serves between 28
and 38 people a night.
"We probably have served well over 2,000
meals this year so far, and our numbers are growing," she said.
Iselin agreed that the numbers are looking
grimmer each year.
Though his nonprofit Hunger Coalition is
still getting off the ground, its goals are clear.
"We want to sew together a network of
agencies to coordinate food acquisition and distribution in Blaine County with
the hopes to end hunger and reduce poverty," Iselin said. "With the reduction of
poverty will come the reduction of hunger."
Iselin said the condition of hunger in
Blaine County is "great and growing," and the numbers reflect his assertion.
From 2001 to 2002, the number of people
receiving food stamps in Blaine County increased 23 percent, according to the
Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.
The number of reduced-cost breakfasts
served to Blaine County students in the 2002-2003 school year rose 172 percent
over the previous year, to 1,495, according to the Blaine County School
The Blaine County School District served
62,647 free lunches to its students in the 2002-2003 school year, an 18 percent
increase over the previous year, according to the Blaine County School District.
The number of free meals served by The
Advocates for Survivors of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault rose 246 percent
in three years to 5,685 in 2003, according to The Advocates.
Theyíre striking numbers for a county of
approximately 20,000 people, with a per capita income of $43,919 in 2001 and a
median household income of $50,496 in 1999. Add to the equation the skyrocketing
costs of homes and rents (6.5 billion of taxable properties in 2002), which are
far outpacing average salary growth, and a recipe for increasing hunger becomes
For Iselin, who has volunteered at soup
kitchens throughout his life, theyíre numbers and trends that need to change.
About a year ago, he founded an investment
research company called Aspen Research, and was looking for a charity to which
he could donate 25 percent of his revenues. What he discovered was that there
was not a local organization coordinating efforts to feed hungry people. No one
had aggregated statistics. No one had coordinated an overall advocacy campaign.
"I realized I really wanted to use my
skills and gifts to help people who are hungry," he said. "The goal of the
Hunger Coalition isnít just to feed people. Itís to help people move from
dependency to self-reliance and self-sufficiency through self-dependence. The
root of hunger isnít hungry stomachs. The root of hunger is poverty and
The effort could prove effective,
"That way thereís no duplication of
services. I believe thatís really an important thing heís doing," she said.
Iselin said he believes many of Blaine
Countyís middle- and upper-class residents are not aware that hunger pervades
the areaís lower classes.
"Part of my job is educating people that
there is hunger and what we can do to assuage it," he said.
Also, existing efforts to assist hungry
families need to be knit together to consolidate and improve the end results, he
Enter the Blaine County Hunger Coalition.
To help describe how the organization
works, Iselin envisioned an hourglass. At the top are various food sources, like
grocery stores, restaurants, government subsidies and food banks. At the bottom
are soup kitchens, food pantries and hungry people.
At the bottleneck is the Hunger Coalition,
which works to compile and coordinate food from various sources and, in turn, to
distribute it to people and organizations in need.
"A lot of these people and organizations
are not working together right now, and thatís where the coalition comes in,"
Iselin said. "Thereís definitely a synergistic effect from working together."
According to Daniel Weinberg, a
statistician with the U.S. Census Bureau, the national poverty rate rose in
2002, consistent with previous economic recessions.
The U.S. poverty rate rose to 12.1 percent
in 2002, affecting 34.6 million people, from 11.7 percent in 2001, or 32.9
million people, the bureau said.
The number of entire families living below
the poverty line increased to 7.2 million last year, or 9.6 percent of all
families, from 6.8 million, or 9.2 percent, the previous year.
While Blaine County may not mirror hunger
on a nation-wide scale, those who know agree there is more to be done to combat
"I think some people see that there is a
wealthy element here, and they come here to work for that wealthy element, but
they simply canít afford to live here," Flickinger said. "A lot of them end up
camping. Thereís another element of people who come and live here, but they
simply canít make it and end up in financial trouble."
This fall, the official U.S poverty
levels, updated each year to reflect changes in the Consumer Price Index, were
$18,392 for a family of four, $14,348 for a family of three, $11,756 for a
two-person household and $9,183 for an individual.