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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

For the week of October 29 - November 4, 2003


Hunger persists amidst wealthy resort economy

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

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 them."

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 District.

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 evident.

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 injustice."

The effort could prove effective, Flickinger said.

"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 said.

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 the problem.

"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.



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