The spirit of the season is alive and well in the Wood River Valley, as several community organizations are reaching out to help people in need.
The Bellevue-based Hunger Coalition has always done its part to help the needy, and this holiday season is no different.
“We’ve been scrambling with the increasing need to feed hungry people over the past six weeks,” Executive Director Jeanne Liston said. “We’re used to serving 16 new families every month, and this past November, we had 44 new families. Our phone has been ringing non-stop.”
Liston said the organization currently feeds 200 families in Blaine County, providing food baskets every week that contain a sufficient food supply for the week. To date, the Hunger Coalition has served 1,762 people, and has fed more than 900 new people in need this year as well.
“We think the rise in need is a result of the recent food stamp cuts,” Liston said. “We didn’t know at first how it would affect us, but it has definitely turned out to affect us more than expected.”
According to Liston, 15 percent of Blaine County’s population is considered “food insecure,” meaning approximately 3,040 people in the county do not know where their next meal is coming from. She said the coalition currently serves 50 percent of the food-insecure population, and their goal is to serve 70 percent over the next three years.
The coalition will also benefit from the ninth annual Luminary Celebration. Since it began in 2005, the Luminary Celebration has raised more than $30,000 for the Hunger Coalition. Sun Valley Auto Club office manager Lee Dabney has organized the celebration since the beginning, and loves the simplicity of the event.
“One of the things I love most about the Luminary Celebration is that it is so simple,” Dabney said. “A bag and a candle with neighbors talking to neighbors, there are no bells or whistles.”
Luminaries can be purchased for $1 at Dabney’s home at 620 Kintail Dr. in the Northridge subdivision of Hailey, the Sage School in Hailey, Isadora’s in Bellevue, and the Dollhouse in Hailey.
This year’s luminary show will take place on Sunday, Dec. 22.
“The candles burn for nine hours, so the idea is that you light them, set them along the street in front of your home, and let them go until they extinguish themselves,” Dabney said.
Another program that has become a community mainstay is the Sun Valley Board of Realtors Foundation Holiday Basket program. Since taking over the program in 2003, the foundation has provided families with gift baskets that provide food, toys and warm clothing for children 17 years old and under.
“We created the foundation in 2003 so we could become a 501(c)3 existing so we could run this program,” Executive Director Robin Christensen said. “This program has existed for over 20 years, and we took it over when it was on the verge of dying.”
Until 2008, real estate agents were the sole providers for the program. Christensen said that since then, it has become more of a community-wide effort to fundraise for the program.
“We are very happy that we have 75 volunteers contributing to this program,” she said. “This is a sustainable foundation that can put this on every year. It’s not a seat-of-the-pants operation.”
Christensen said she expects the foundation to give baskets to about 350 to 375 families in need during the holiday season. Pickup for the baskets will take place on Saturday, Dec. 21, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Hailey Armory and Monday, Dec. 23, from 10 a.m. to noon at the same location.
“Every year when we see the look on kids’ faces when they see Santa Claus and receive their gifts, I have tears of joy,” Christensen said. “It’s just a truly amazing experience.”
In addition, the YMCA in Ketchum has set up its annual Christmas Giving Tree. For each ornament on the tree, a request is made for a gift to be given. Donors can take an ornament, purchase the gift and place it under the tree for the recipient.