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New Caldwell distribution site to help Canyon County food insecurity

Four cardboard boxes sit on the floor and are filled to the brim with oranges and bags of food.
Samantha Wright
/
Boise State Public Radio

The COVID-19 pandemic and rising inflation have put a strain on many households in the Treasure Valley. Many have found some relief in the form of food distributions put together by various groups.

One of those groups, WICAP, had been holding these free events in Caldwell until they lost their distribution site. After a short hiatus, they will be back in action soon.

Idaho Foodbank's director of programs and partnerships, Jamie Hansen, is here to talk more about the need in Caldwell and Canyon County.

Read the full transcript below:

Gemma Gaudette: The COVID-19 pandemic and rising inflation have put a strain on many households in the Treasure Valley. A lot of families have found some relief in the form of food distributions put together by various groups. Now one of those groups, WICAP, had been holding these free monthly events in Caldwell until they lost their distribution site. After a short hiatus, though, WICAP will be back in action with a food distribution one week from today at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Caldwell. So joining us today to talk about the need in Caldwell and in Canyon County as a whole is the Idaho Food Bank's director of programs and partnerships, Jamie Hansen. Jamie, nice to have you on the program.

Jamie Hansen: Thanks for having me, Gemma. I appreciate it.

Gaudette: So for folks who may not be familiar, can you just quickly explain what food insecurity is?

Hansen: Absolutely. And there's two definitions that we operate under. One is food insecurity and one is nutrition insecurity. So food insecurity is defined more as the lack of consistent access to enough food, and that's for every person in the household. Sometimes this is a temporary situation. Maybe they had medical bills that month or a one time expense, or it could be a longer lasting period of time in their life. Nutrition insecurity is is kind of where we're heading as a nation to describe access and timeline, just like food insecurity, but also to concentrate on the overall health and well-being of individuals, to live an active, healthy lifestyle. So roughly last year in the £30 million that we distributed, 87% was considered nutritious. We're really working towards that nutrition security goal.

Gaudette: So I know before the pandemic, progress was really being made in reducing food insecurity here in our state. However, can you talk about how COVID-19 impacted that progress?

Hansen: Oh, my goodness. Just like everything else, right? So we saw a dramatic increase in costs. Transportation and food costs went up significantly. Right now, transportation costs are holding steady about 35% higher than they were before the pandemic. So this extends to Idaho families as well, as you know. So we're super grateful for our agriculture and manufacturing food donors and everyone else that has contributed to the food bank. All of that food goes to our 466 partners across the state, including the wonderful WICAP in Caldwell, who offers their monthly distribution to the community. But we're starting to see the numbers change a little bit. We saw a dramatic increase when COVID hit, specifically in 2020. We're starting to see the numbers of people needing food decreasing and we're looking at why is that? What is the change, what's the shift, especially as other expenses continue to hold strong.

Gaudette: So there are so many people that experience food insecurity, but they don't qualify for assistance programs. Right? So what is why is it so important then to to fill that gap? And then how do organizations like WICAP and the Idaho Foodbank help do that?

Hansen: Great question. Yes, some folks don't qualify for social service resources like SNAP or food stamps, as they used to be called. And so it's going and again, in the short term or long term, going to a food pantry, local food pantry, it can really help them offset their expenses. So some food pantries offer government-based programming, which does have an income eligibility. Oftentimes here in Idaho, that's called TFAP or The Emergency Food Assistance Program. But there's also a bunch of donated items that are purchased by our warehouse for pantries to distribute, that does not require income verification. So it's a really great avenue for folks who may be again, in that one-time food insecurity moment or in a long time food security issue.

Gaudette: So I think it's worth pointing out that rural communities experience much higher rates of food insecurity. And people might be surprised by that. But according to the Idaho Foodbank website, 75% of our state's 44 counties are considered rural. So, Jamie, have you seen that need growing in in more of our rural areas areas in particular during the pandemic?

Hansen: It's so fascinating. Yeah. National data, we have about 63% of the United States considered rural and 91% of those counties have the highest rates of overall food insecurity. And like you said, about 75% of Idaho's is labeled rural by our government. But what we see is all of the barriers of infrastructure. So when we think of really healthy, fresh food, it's oftentimes fresh produce, fruits and vegetables. It could even include frozen items, protein, vegetables, again, across the board. We need a diverse diet in order to be healthy. And it takes a lot of infrastructure to house and support in a food safety way. So the Idaho Foodbank has a network of refrigerated trucks that can help deliver these items to rural communities. But the pantries have to have coolers and freezers and square footage to store these items in the long term. Oftentimes, delivery to these rural communities is only once a month, or they may only be able to get down into the Meridian warehouse once a month, or the Pocatello or the Lewiston warehouse once a month. So the infrastructure is extreme, but yet we see the need greater in the rural areas. It's an unfortunate barrier to food access.

Gaudette: If you're just joining us, let me reintroduce our guest. We're talking with Idaho Foodbank director of programs and partnerships, Jamie Hansen. So what are some of the needs that we're seeing in our communities?

Hansen: Sure. I mean, this isn't a surprise to anybody listening or to you, Gemma. Housing, childcare and food costs have continued to rise, and that has a really large impact on folks' wallets right their, their monthly budget. Here in the Treasure Valley, we see our numbers really shifting. So our mobile distributions have maintained their popularity and their access points. That would be Mountain Home, Nampa and Caldwell. And it looks like we're still serving about 500 households at the Caldwell distribution every single month through WICAP. Again, phenomenal partner of the Idaho Foodbank. And that's next Tuesday, April 12th, as you said, Gemma and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints parking lot off of Kimball Avenue there in Caldwell. And how that distribution supports the community is it's a mobile distribution, so folks can drive-through and grab a prebuilt box or select fresh product from the line that would work well for their household. And this is an extremely important aspect because choice is how we ensure food is getting consumed, it's getting used and it's nutritious and what the household needs and wants. So as folks drive through, they're able to grab the items that they're able to use, and they only have to give us a little bit of information, roughly the ages of the households and the number of people in their household and no other information is connected. So that means there's some anonymity. That means that there's less opportunity for potential judgment or speculation, and it's a very comfortable distribution. And so that's one of the ways that we've seen the needs shift, is rather than going into a pantry where folks are shopping, which is an awesome setting, folks are feeling more comfortable, whether that's because of health reasons or exposure to COVID potentially in that drive-thru model.

Gaudette: And why is the distribution site in Caldwell so, so important? And I mean even more important now that it had been closed for a little while?

Hansen: Absolutely. WICAP has done a phenomenal job. Again, my hat is off to them. It is so difficult to find a location that serves the mobile distribution need. And again, 500 households, imagine 500 cars lined up. That is no easy feat. And in a window of time that's fairly narrow. This distribution runs from 11 a.m. until to or when the food runs out. And what they do is they have an opportunity to work directly with individuals and also work for them to other resources. So other pantries in the area that folks may be able to visit, maybe other health resources such as mental health or housing, child care needs. And they also are able to provide services translated into Spanish. So they do have some opportunity to communicate with folks who have Spanish as their first language. And that really increases access for our neighbors as well.

Gaudette: How can people get involved if they're interested in volunteering or donating? Because I also know that that's a big part of the need as well.

Hansen: Absolutely. Oh, my goodness. I can't stress that enough volunteers make this happen. We are really encouraging folks to check out the Idaho Foodbank dot org website. There is a food map locator not only where you can find or share with your friends and family where to find food, but also where you can find local food pantries to volunteer at. And I believe WICAP would be welcoming of any volunteers that would like to help out at the mobile distribution or in their pantries. They have pantries all over Canyon County. If they if folks are unable to volunteer, it is a physical job lifting boxes in and out of of trucks or into coolers or storage units. Of course, donations are always welcome. We say that every dollar counts. A dollar to the Idaho Foodbank can provide enough food for up to four meals. And those meals are distributed again across the state. We have 466 food distribution points in the state of Idaho that we support through the food bank.

Gaudette: Well, I want to thank you so much, Jamie, for coming in and talking to us more in-depth about this. We've been speaking with Jamie Hansen, the Idaho Foodbank director of programs and partnerships about food insecurity in Canyon County. The community collaborative known as WICAP will hold a food distribution next Tuesday in the parking lot of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Caldwell from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. or until food runs out.

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As Senior Producer of our live daily talk show Idaho Matters, I’m able to indulge my love of storytelling and share all kinds of information (I was probably a Town Crier in a past life!). My career has allowed me to learn something new everyday and to share that knowledge with all my friends on the radio.