Hunger coalition attacks hunger
Group picks up where federal program
By MEGAN THOMAS
Express Staff Writer
Despite the Wood River Valley’s reputation
as being a place of affluence, there are still a considerable number of families
struggling with the most basic of needs: putting food on the table.
Lexi Holz, of the St. Luke’s Community
Center for Community Health, stands in front of the Center’s food pantry,
which has benefited from contributions by the Blaine County Hunger Coalition.
Express photo by Willy Cook
Formed in July 2003, the Blaine County
Hunger Coalition, is making strides to augment the federal food stamp program
administered by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare by providing food
vouchers, supplying access to information and increasing awareness of hunger in
In 2003 the Idaho Department of Health and
Welfare recorded 132 clients in Blaine County who received $122,347 worth of
food stamps. And those numbers almost certainly understate the number of people
in the county who need assistance. An Idaho Department of Health and Welfare
audit found that as of July 2003 approximately 10 percent of food stamp
applications statewide were erroneously denied.
"This has been a year for people to see we
are making an impact," Blaine County Hunger coalition executive director Tom
Iselin, explained in a recent meeting.
Since March of 2004 the coalition has
purchased and distributed $2,000 worth of grocery vouchers. Of that $2,000,
approximately $750 has been distributed to needy families.
The coalition buys the grocery store
vouchers from Atkinsons’ Markets at a 15 percent discount. The vouchers are then
allocated in $20 amounts to social service agencies.
Unlike food stamps, there is no red tape,
explained Katie Corkery, a coalition board member. No criteria such as income
level or number of children is necessary for a family to qualify for the
vouchers. That means the vouchers can be handed over immediately, with no
criteria to meet and no approval process to go through.
The approval process for food stamps can
be a long one. According to the recent state audit, the Idaho Department of
Health and Welfare receives about 4,500 applications per month. Thirteen percent
of applications are not processed in the standard 30-day period.
Coalition vouchers, however, can instantly
assist those in need. Corkery has worked to see that social services workers at
The Advocates, Saint Luke’s Center for Community Health, Head Start and Blaine
County School District have access to the vouchers. These agencies then use
their own discretion to distribute the funds.
The vouchers can be used to buy any
grocery items, except alcohol and tobacco products.
"Vouchers are able to provide things they
can’t buy with food stamps," said Betty Brooks, family advocate for Head Start.
Brooks recalled that during one of her
visits to a family she discovered the household could not afford toilet paper.
The average monthly food stamp benefit is
$200 per family, as recorded by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.
Given this amount, many families find themselves without money to buy other
necessities. The coalition vouchers can then be used to buy necessary paper
products like toilet paper and feminine products.
In addition to the vouchers, the coalition
also helps by stocking agency food banks and providing food baskets.
Over the course of the year, the coalition
also realized the need to connect needy people with available resources.
"There are so many services, but what
we’ve discovered is a huge gap between the people and connecting them to those
services," Iselin said.
In order to link available social services
with those in need, the group created The Food Card. The card is an
informational resource on food assistance services in Blaine County. The card is
a simple and anonymous avenue used to connect those in need with social services
available in the valley.
"People have been very grateful to know
there is a comprehensive list," said Amy Anderson, a volunteer with the
Anderson has worked to distribute the
cards throughout Ketchum. She works alongside three other volunteers who
distribute the cards at social service agencies and businesses such as laundry
mats and landscaping companies throughout Ketchum, Hailey and Bellevue. The
Hunger coalition was recently granted permission to make the cards available at
the Souper Supper Dining Room in Hailey and to distribute the card to school
social workers and counselors.
"Many people don’t know what services are
available," Anderson said.
The Food Card answers questions about food
assistance in Blaine County with a list of agencies and brief descriptions of
their services. The card also includes a map with directions to the Souper
Supper Dining Room, which provides free, hot meals twice a week.
The card is printed with one side in
English and the other in Spanish.
The Food Card aligns with the
organization’s guiding principle to empower individuals to help themselves. The
principle is rooted in the idea that connecting people and resources will help
individuals move from dependency to self-sufficiency.
In addition to the voucher and Food Card
programs, the Hunger coalition is currently pursuing projects to further extend
"We could do more if we had a building,"
The group is working to secure a building
from which to center their operations. The building would serve as a place to
build food boxes and store food. The coalition is actively seeking a 700- to
1,500-square foot space with a kitchen in Hailey. The coalition said any type of
short-term donated space or other solution would be helpful.
A building would also allow the coalition
to apply to become an affiliate of America’s Second Harvest, which is the
largest domestic hunger relief organization in the United States. Iselin hopes
that by becoming an affiliate, the coalition would then look to bring the
organization’s Kid’s Café program to the county. The café would provide year
round meals to hungry children, becoming of particular importance during the
summer when kids are without any other options.
In order to fund the programs, the Hunger
coalition embarked on a door to door fundraising campaign last winter and raised
$10,000. The group plans to continue fundraising this summer. In addition, "The
Bread of Life," a book by Iselin weaving together personal stories and insights,
has brought $2,000 to the organization.
The coalition is also awaiting approval of
their 501(C)3 application. Although the application is pending approval, tax
deductible donations are currently accepted.