Mobile Pantry Helps Bridge The Food Gap In Idaho Towns

Mar 19, 2013

In Idaho, 17 percent of people don’t have access to enough food for an active, healthy life.  That’s according to the hunger relief charity Feeding America.  The Idaho Foodbank tries to help by partnering with food pantries around the state.  But when there’s no pantry available, residents are left unserved.  That's where the Foodbank's mobile service comes in. 

It’s still dark outside when Chico McKinney drives away from the Idaho Foodbank in Boise with nearly 8,000 pounds of food. “Of course this is Idaho, we have a wide variety of potatoes, we have some frozen french fries, some dehydrated mashed potatoes and some dehydrated hash browns…”

Plus cheese, bread, frozen meat, and peanut butter.  All of this is for Weiser’s first Mobile Food Pantry.  “A mobile pantry is when we drop off food and distribute it directly out of the truck in communities that don’t have an actual brick and mortar pantry.”

Usually the Foodbank delivers food to permanent pantries, that turn around and give it to those in need.  But in 30 communities, there’s no group on the ground with the facilities to store food.  As the Foodbank’s Agency Relations Specialist, part of McKinney’s job is to change that.  The mobile pantry is the first step.

In Washington County, where Weiser is located, there’s an estimated 1,700 people who can’t meet their food needs.  At the Cornerstone Assembly of God Church in Weiser, volunteers begin sorting items into cardboard boxes.

A huge box of bread will be divided up into family food boxes.
Credit Samantha Wright / Boise State Public Radio

Each family gets two boxes, or 70 pounds of food.  Pastor Kyle Mazac and his wife Michelle are hosting the mobile pantry in their church.  He sees a need in Weiser, and in his own home.

“Myself, I have five kids, we make enough money to live, but we don’t qualify for any government help," he says.  "But we spend $800 on groceries, that’s a lot of money.  So having a food box just for myself and my family is a blessing, so I think there’s a lot of families that would appreciate just a little help.”

In the church lobby, men and women of all ages stand in line. Raphael is among them.

“I’m here to pick up a food box,” he says.

He has two boys, 13 and 14, back home.  Raphael is self-employed, but he’s not making ends meet.  He’s among 16 percent of people in Washington County who are on food stamps.

“We make it stretch, but you know, just macaroni and cheese with chili every day, it’s kind of tough, but when we have to, that’s what we do, you know?”

Raphael leaves with two heavy boxes of food.  So does Kenny.  He’s 21, out of work, and taking classes toward a welding degree.

“Kind of need a little bit more food in the house," he says. "I mean with four…two adults and two younger children we eat quite a bit, so, there’s not really enough money for the entire month.”

There’s also Milton, who’s come for a food box. “

Was a truck driver, but I got sick here a while back, got sick and haven’t got back to work yet, so…” he says.

To explore the county-by-county data go here:
Credit Emilie Ritter Saunders / StateImpact Idaho

His age and his health have kept him from getting another job.  He has eight people living at his house, and only one of them gets food stamps.

“Every little bit helps and it sure is nice when you’ve got people like these guys coming around and saying hey, we can help," Milton adds.

The Foodbank’s Chico McKinney knows the food boxes will help, but he says even 70 pounds of food is not enough for an entire month.

“If that was all a family had to eat, for breakfast, snacks, lunch, dinner, I don’t think that would last a family a week.”

McKinney hopes this church in Weiser will create its own food pantry, able to store and distribute large quantities of food.  That will take space, freezers, and a group of trained volunteers.  He says this mobile pantry was a good first step.

“There was some momentum gained here, definitely, the people enjoyed working on it and the families are really pleased to get this little boast of groceries in their house, so it was a nice surprise for the community," McKinney says.

A nice surprise and a good turnout.  Ninety-two families took home food boxes.  The Idaho Foodbank will be back in Weiser with another truck, tomorrow and every month, until the community gets its own permanent pantry. 

Copyright 2013 Boise State Public Radio