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Here’s why more Idahoans are dumpster diving … and what the City of Boise is doing about it.

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The City of Boise has announced a grant in support of addressing food security needs among low-income individuals and families.

Anyone in a hurry to stereotype a man or woman searching for their next meal in a dumpster should know that a growing number of them are employed. In fact, more than a few have multiple jobs just to keep the lights on.

“I think that’s just such an important picture for us to have in mind,” said Kate Nelson, City of Boise Director of Community Partnerships. “They are people next door to us in our communities, in every single neighborhood across Boise where there is food insecurity.”

Nelson visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about a new effort – grants to specifically address food security – that the city has secured via the U.S. American Rescue Plan Act.

“I think with rare exception, the individuals we spoke to articulate a need for food and food security… they were working multiple jobs and were all employed or are on fixed incomes in our community.”

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning, I’m George Prentice. On this day, like nearly every other day, there are many families considered to be food insecure. While many of us consider the emergence from the pandemic as terrific news, we are quickly reminded that well before the pandemic, men, women and too many children were not certain where their next meal would come from. During the pandemic, free lunches were offered to all schoolchildren - with no exceptions - in Idaho, but that total relief covering all children has ended since. There's so much to talk about here. And in particular, we're going to ask about what new efforts might be out there in the pipeline. So, let's bring in Kate Nelson. She is the Director of Community Partnerships at Boise City Hall. Kate Nelson, good morning.

KATE NELSON: Good morning. Thanks so much for having me.

PRENTICE: Who we are talking about here. Do you have a sense of food insecurity… and putting a face to that?

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Kate Nelson, City of Boise Director of Community Partnerships

NELSON: We do. And to be honest, it surprised me when we first went out to the community to get feedback. What are the most important and pressing needs that our community members are feeling? This was in late 2021 and there were a number of listening sessions and surveys put out to the community. And what we heard from them resoundingly across Boise geographically and at different age groups, different professions, was that food insecurity was one of the top areas of need that our residents are facing today.

PRENTICE: And you mentioned “professions.” Lest we think that we're talking about the unemployed…we are talking about the employed… and many folks who might have multiple jobs just to keep the lights on.

NELSON: I think with rare exception, the individuals that we spoke to, articulated a need for food and food security… they were working multiple jobs and were all employed or are on fixed incomes in our community.

PRENTICE: So, let's dive into the news here. It's our understanding that there are new grants in the pipeline. These are..what? ARPA funds?

NELSON: Correct. These are ARPA funds. So, the City of Boise received $35 million in ARPA funds and Mayor McClain and City Council felt it was very important to again understand the community need by going out and asking what our residents are feeling. So as a result of that feedback I mentioned, we landed on five areas of need. And I think what is really kind of an unprecedented move, the Mayor and council elected to allocate over $10 million to go directly to the community, knowing that we have fantastic partners that are either already working on some of these issues and could really benefit from additional financial support or make sure that it's going directly into the hands of residents so that they experience more economic stability. So, this is one of the ways that we are addressing those needs, particularly with food insecurity.

PRENTICE: So, let's talk about those partners. The most obvious thing I can think of is a food bank, but can you give me some real-world examples of who else might use these funds?

NELSON: So, as we talk about like the “who…” who really is experiencing food insecurity, I'd like to provide a little more context there. So, during one of my meetings that was not related to ARPA funds or food insecurity, I was speaking with the founders and operators of the Native American Coalition of Boise, a wonderful grassroots organization that has been around for decades. And they shared with me some really heartbreaking stories of individuals that are older, that are living on fixed income, that do not have reliable transportation or difficulty accessing transportation because maybe they live off the bus line and with an increase in food costs, are not getting nutritious food. They have really been pushed to dumpster dive, to go into the dumpsters at their apartment complexes or go to apartment complexes where they have noticed word has gotten out that there is good food being thrown out. And I think that's just such an important picture for us to have in mind that there are people next door to us in our communities, in every single neighborhood across Boise where there is food insecurity.

PRENTICE: That's really interesting. This could then create new hubs.

NELSON: So, this is, I think, a very, very exciting opportunity that looks at all the different intersections of really our food system. So, while the end result provides kind of new meaning to the phrase farm to table, I think it's this is such a unique opportunity because we are really hoping and intending for these funds to tie together all the different threads. We have a very robust agricultural system here and lots of small entrepreneurs and farmers that produce excellent food, and we want to ensure that their food is getting to the tables of those that really need it. You know, that has a significant impact on reducing carbon emissions with food that's produced here locally, not having long transport routes. And we want to make sure that farmers who have also experienced hardship as a result of the of the COVID pandemic are bolstered so that they continue to operate and be successful starting their all the way to the distribution system and really getting into the specific locations across the city that are underserved and making sure that it's accessible is the intent of this funding.

PRENTICE: That's so interesting that you mentioned the farmers, because I'm guessing that's the sustainability part of this.

NELSON: It certainly is part of the sustainability. We are also wanting to electrify the distribution system so that the organizations or drivers that are moving food from one place to another are able to do so to reduce food waste, while also ensuring that they're not contributing to the climate impact.

PRENTICE: So, this can't happen soon enough. So, can you even generally give us a sense of timing on this?

NELSON: Absolutely. We are so excited that the grant period opened last week, so we are actively looking for applications. That grant period will be open until October 31st and this first phase is to allow an organization the opportunity to plan to bring numerous entities together. Looking at the “spoke and hub” model, we are looking for that hub to develop a strategic plan. And then the second part of the phase is the implementation of that strategic plan, that in total we are allocating $1.5 million to this project.

PRENTICE: All notes aside, isn't it stunning that year-in and year-out, pandemic or not, how many families in general, but kids in particular go to bed hungry here in Idaho? Where we have an abundance of food?

NELSON: It is. And I think many organizations locally deserve credit for really seeing the pandemic as an opportunity to step up and address childhood hunger. The Boise School District, our community schools. United Way, Treasure Valley, City of Good, and City Light have dedicated many resources and time to ensuring that children in Boise and the Treasure Valley do not go to bed hungry. That said, it is not acceptable for a single child to go to bed hungry or frankly, just not know when they will have access to a meal next. And we certainly know that this this is not the case, that there are children struggling to have access to healthy, fresh food on a regular basis. And so, it's important that we continue to focus on addressing that.

PRENTICE: She is Kate Nelson, director of community partnerships at the mayor's office at Boise City Hall.  For this Monday. Kate Nelson, thank you for giving us some time. Have a good week, too.

NELSON: Thank you so much, George.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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