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At Idaho's first Hispanic and American Indian Health Conference, organizations tackle food insecurity

The Hunger Coalition

Food insecurity amongst American Indians and Hispanics was one of the focus of the first Idaho Healthcare Conference organized by the Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs.

Amongst participants gathered in Twin Falls to discuss disparities in health outcomes amongst Idahoans were two local organizations trying to expand food access through culturally relevant practices.

At a panel on hunger and healthcare, Kelsey Cooper from the Idaho Foodbank said about 8% of Idahoans experience food insecurity but people of color are affected at much higher rates.

“It's about 15%. So nearly double what it is for the entire state. And then in tribal communities, it can be up to 25%,” she said.

In response, the food bank is targeting rural communities by providing culturally relevant foods and cooking classes.

“Over 90% of the foods provided were culturally relevant for our Hispanic neighbors,” Cooper said. “This is, you know, sourcing food like Masa, making sure we're providing fresh produce with tomatillos, with peppers.”

Cooper said the foodbank is intentionally trying to lower barriers to access: Spanish-speaking volunteers greet those seeking help, and resources are advertised on Spanish-speaking radio stations.

“We have really great relationships with the folks out of the Nez Perce Reservation, Duck Valley and Fort Hall, both to provide food through our mobile pantry and our more traditional brick and mortar pantries on the reservation in addition to resource navigation,” Cooper said.

The Hunger Coalition, which distributes food in Blaine County, is also trying to fight the stigma of food banks by reimagining their distribution locations as community centers.

Programs and operations manager Blanca Romero Green was also a panelist at the conference. Roughly 53% of Blaine County residents are food insecure or one crisis away from it, she said, adding folks facing barriers to access food have a direct impact on their health.

“When you don't have enough money to cover all of your expenses, food is the first thing that starts to get manipulated,” Romero-Green said.

“Medicine was the number two item,” she said. “So not only are you not getting any not getting nutritious food, now you're cutting back your medicine that you need to help with your ailments, which can turn into a cycle.”

Each month, the Idaho Foodbank serves 185,000 people across the state.

As the Canyon County reporter, I cover the Latina/o/x communities and agricultural hub of the Treasure Valley. I’m super invested in local journalism and social equity, and very grateful to be working in Idaho.

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