Wednesday, November 17, 2010

With shoe on other foot, lessons are learned

Hunger Coalition project connects mission to community


By SABINA DANA PLASSE
Express Staff Writer

Courtesy photos by Craig Wolfrom Participants in a Hunger Coalition weekly food-distribution program wait in line to receive food, which includes generous donations of baked goods from valley grocery stores and bakeries.

On a fall afternoon in mid-October, several Latino women, a few Latino children, a few Anglo women and a few Anglo men gathered at the side entrance of the Community Campus in Hailey. Leaning against the outside wall of the building, the group formed a line. A few women were speaking in Spanish about seeing each other. Two men were discussing the day's news. Some of the women had young children clinging to their sides, one woman was dressed for work and all of them were tightly clutching recycled or used cloth bags.

A white truck pulled up to the building and men and women quickly began to unload boxes of canned goods, bags and overflowing containers of vegetables, coolers and a variety of trays filled with baked goods. Within minutes, all the items were set up in a long row inside the basement hallway of the Community Campus. All of the men, women and children who were waiting outside filed into the hallway. The line moved toward the tables and people filled their bags with food distributed by volunteers.

Numbers were given out to food recipients, which gave them the go-ahead to fill their bags with a week's supply of food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In addition, snacks and other items were also available.

For two years, the Bellevue-based Hunger Coalition has been distributing food weekly in Ketchum, Hailey, Bellevue and Carey to help individuals and families who need relief from Blaine County's high cost of living. In addition, the Hunger Coalition distributes food monthly from its Bellevue warehouse.

In 2009, the Hunger Coalition served 162,740 meals through its mobile food bank—a huge jump from its efforts in its inaugural year of 2004, when it served 400 meals. More than 203,000 pounds of food were distributed in 2009, compared to 71,897 pounds in 2008. The Hunger Coalition estimates it has between 180 and 350 individuals and families participating in its mobile-food-bank program every month.

"We know there are more," said Food Program Manager Naomi Spence. "There are families and individuals who are embarrassed to receive help and don't want to be seen receiving food from the Hunger Coalition."

In conjunction with Idaho Hunger Awareness Month in October, the Hunger Coalition launched the Hunger Project. Spence said the intent of the project was to make Blaine County residents aware of an underused program and to demonstrate that it's OK to ask for help.

"We contacted community leaders to participate," Spence said. "We want the community to connect to the Hunger Coalition."

People invited to participate—none of whom actually needed food assistance—included religious leaders, city council members and other working residents, including this reporter and a second member of the Express Publishing staff.

Three individuals and six families—none of whom were city council members or religious leaders—accepted the invitation. Pence said those who declined told her their spouses objected to their participation, but were happy to donate money.

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One of the project's main goals was to obtain first-hand accounts by participants who received food from the mobile-food-bank distributions. Food recipients, including two families with pregnant mothers, received identical types and quantities of food as do actual clients of the Hunger Coalition, and were allowed to eat only that food for a week. All four families signed up to receive food distribution anonymously. The Hunger Coalition staff and volunteers as well as participants kept their identities confidential during food distributions. In addition, all participants chose as many as 12 items from their existing pantry and refrigerator and received a small stipend of $25 to use at the grocery store for the week.

Depending on the size of the family, the week's supply of food included fresh vegetables, some of which came from the Hunger Coalition's Hope Garden in Hailey, fresh fruit, snacks of crackers and energy bars, protein, bread, pasta, sauces, soups, rice, beans, applesauce and cereal. The food included Bigwood Bread products, vegetables from Wood River Organics and brand-name sauces, soups and cereals.

"We have incredible donations," Spence said. "And, the food is very good."

Through the project, Spence said, the Hunger Coalition was seeking information about the psychological, social, emotional and economic effects that food insecurity has on residents of Blaine County.

All participants stated in their journals that they had enough to eat and were surprised about the quality and quantity of food they were given. Most stated that the most difficult part of participating in the Hunger Project was the time needed to prepare all the meals from scratch. In addition, many participants said they will donate the money they saved from taking part in the project back to the Hunger Coalition.

"One thing that struck me was that we were going to be eating more nutritiously than we usually do," said Jennifer Tuohy, editor of Sun Valley Guide magazine.

Other participants included Chrissie Huss, wife of Community School upper school Head Phil Huss. She said their children kept referring to the project as "the week that we are going to starve."

"I had to remind them that we are not going to starve because we live in a place that has the Hunger Coalition to help families who are tight on money," Huss said.

Alex McPherson, a commercial painter, said he ate well, especially since his diet is 90 percent vegetarian.

"It was very similar to what I am used to eating," McPherson said. "I looked forward to the granola bars and carrot bread, as they were special treats I wouldn't normally buy."

Spence said the Hunger Coalition's biggest goal is to reach out to potential clients who need help and don't know how to get it.

"Some people will never consider hunger in their lives," Spence said. "We want to let go of the feeling of them versus us."

Sabina Dana Plasse: splasse@mtexpress.com

Hunger Project forum

The Hunger Project: A public forum will take place tonight, Nov. 17, at 6 p.m. at Light on the Mountains Spiritual Center, located south of Ketchum off state Highway 75, north of Gimlet Road. For details, call the Hunger Coalition at 788-0121. The forum will include a slide show by Craig Wolfrom and presentations by the Hunger Coalition and participants in the Hunger Project.




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