Just in time to launch the month-long holiday season, The Idaho Food Bank is the beneficiary this week of two fundraising campaigns from two of the Treasure Valley's prominent grocers.
Whole Food Markets, which swung the doors of its first Idaho store a year ago, is unveiling what it calls a “Feed Four More” initiative. Simply put, the campaign asks for $5 to provide breakfast for a family of four, or $10 to buy lunch or dinner for the same family.
“This is a first for Whole Foods Market anywhere,” said Matt Collins, marketing and community relations specialist for the Boise store. "'Feed Four More' is a successful in-store fundraiser for us, and now we are using technology to make it easy and convenient for people to give when they aren’t in the store.”
Whole Foods' Feed Four More initiative will run from Thanksgivings to New Years.
Meanwhile, representatives of the Alberstons grocery chain visited the Idaho Food Bank today to hand over $50,000, enough to provide over 150,000 meals to Idaho's hungry. Albertsons' customers donated the equivalent of an additional 920 meals through the store's annual Turkey Box program.
Albertsons is continuing to take donations at its stores and Whole Foods Market Boise's Feed Four More campaign is currently factive at facebook.com/WFMBoise
In a blistering Washington Post guest editorial, the recent rollback of assistance to millions of Americans who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka Food Stamps) translates into a devastating, but simple fact this holiday season: "Many Americans will eat too much and many others won't have nearly enough."
In the current issue of Boise Weekly, we examine how, on Nov. 2, one in seven Americans instantly became less food-secure (BW, News, "More Need, Less Help," Nov. 6, 2013).
At the height of the recession, a just-inaugurated President Barack Obama announced in 2009 that, as part of an economic stimulus package, food stamp participants would receive a 13.6 percent boost. But the U.S. Congress opted to let that supplemental assistance lapse, in spite of the fact that participation remains high.
As of Oct. 1, there were 221,717 Idaho food stamp recipients, representing 13.9 percent of the state's population. There are nearly 46,000 participants in Ada County and more than 41,000 participants in Canyon County. Together, the two counties total 39 percent of all Idahoans participating in the food stamp program.
Alexandra Ashbrook and Patty Stonesifer, two D.C.-based advocates for the hungry, write in this morning's Post, "It is a testament to the powerlessness of America’s poor and our growing economic and political divisions that so little attention has been paid to this change—particularly by policymakers. To those affected, the impact is immediate and devastating."
And the two authors say that while many Americans donate to food drives during Thanksgiving and Christmas, those donations need to be kept in perspective. "The SNAP program provides about 20 times as much help as the entire charitable food network," they wrote. "That means when SNAP benefits are cut by 5 percent, charitable organizations have to double their contributions across the nation to keep up."
The U.S. House of Representatives is planning to vote today on a proposal which could slash the food stamp program by nearly $40 billion over 10 years. But House Republicans know that if if the measure passes, President Barack Obama has promised to veto the legislation.
"These cuts would affect a broad array of Americans who are struggling to make ends meet, including working families with children, senior citizens, veterans, and adults who are still looking for work," the White House said in a statement on the bill.
In August, Boise Weekly examined Idaho's food stamp program, which exploded from approximately 40,000 households in 2007 to nearly 110,000 household in January 2012. Each household represents approximately 2.5 recipients. As of July, 224,477 Idahoans were receiving assistance through the Food Stamp Program, representing 14.2 percent of the population.
In our report, we chronicled that how Idaho requires most adult food stamp recipients to be employed or actively participating in a work training program.
"I think that another big misconception [is] that they're under the impression that people are just sitting at home collecting food stamps," Lori Wolff, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare deputy administrator told Boise Weekly. "The Food Stamp Program is truly a work support program. If you're working 30 hours a week at minimum wage, you're barely paying your rent. You barely have enough for child care while you're working, let alone expenses for medicine or transportation. Food assistance doesn't become a replacement for income. It's a supplement, in [being] able to meet basic minimum needs. Serving the working poor is so important. If you can't buy food, you certainly can't put gas in your car and then you can't get to work the next day."
The Democratic-led U.S. Senate in June passed a five-year farm bill that would have cut about $400 million from food stamps annually, but the cuts were too modest for conservatives in the U.S. House.
The cost of food stamps has more than doubled since 2008, coming to nearly $78 billion last year. In 2007, the percentage of American households that lacked sufficient access to food stood at 11.1 percent, but it increased to 14.6 percent in 2008 as the recession hit. That figure has remained virtually unchanged since then, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported in September, with 14.5 percent of households that were "food insecure" in 2012.
Officials with the Idaho Hunger Relief Task Force say they're worried that not enough children are participating in Summer Nutrition Programs, which saw only 20 out of 100 low-income children, who got regular school year school meals in the 2011-2012 school year, reaching out to get a summer meal through federally-subsidized programs in parks, non profits and some schools.
According to the task force, if Idaho were to reach 40 children with summer food for every 100 low-income children who get school lunch during the regular school year, Idaho would have fed an additional 20,000 more children every day in July 2012 and brought in approximately $1.4 million in more federal dollars to do so.
"It is in Idaho's best interest to ensure that children have adequate nutrition during the summer so they stay healthy, active and are ready to learn," said Kathy Gardner of the task force.
Low-income children can receive free meals at participating summer sites at school, parks, public agencies and non profits. Idaho sites can be found here or by calling the Idaho CareLine at 2-1-1.
The University of Idaho will begin 2013 by opening a new food pantry, addressing what it says is malnutrition among some of its low-income students.
The Moscow-Pullman News reports that the U of I will swing the doors open to the food bank on Tuesday, Jan. 15, on the first floor of the campus student union.
"We have many examples of students coming forward and needing additional financial assistance for a wide range of issues, " Bruce Pitman, U of I dean of students, told the News. "
An on-campus outreach and recruitment student coordinator told the News that some students' education was in jeopardy because of hunger.
"We started hearing stories about kids missing class in order to get food for their families or themselves, " said Maggie Hand with the U of I's Center for Volunteerism. "Students are struggling to make ends meet and fill their refrigerators. It's definitely something I see and I'm concerned about, so I'm grateful and excited for this food pantry."
The U of I Parents Association donated $2,000, and more than 650 pounds of food donations have been contributed to get the food pantry started.
Saying that the need is still high in spite of an improving economy, the Idaho Foodbank appealed to Gem State generosity Friday by announcing its goal to distribute as many as 7,200 turkeys or hams for Christmas. The food bank handed out 7,800 roasts for Thanksgiving.
The food bank's budget to purchase turkeys is 50 percent less than last year and the price of turkeys has also increased. As a result, the food bank faces a 70 percent reduction in the number of turkeys its can purchase from partner agencies.
To offset the gap, Idahoans are being asked to make holiday donations at Idaho Foodbank branches in Boise, Pocatello or Lewiston, at any Treasure Valley Les Schwab location, or at any local food pantry or community kitchen.
At a time when the need has never been greater, a lack of funding forced Idaho County to shutter its food bank on Aug. 31.
"I feel the dissolving of the food bank will really hurt people in this community, but the board decided there was no other way to continue," food bank manager Leta Akins told the Idaho County Free Press.
The nonprofit served more than 700 families per year, including distributions of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner baskets. But officials said the food bank struggled for years to meet overhead costs of rent and utilities.
For now, Idaho County residents in need are being directed to the Camas Prairie Food Bank, which only opens one day per month.
With Treasure Valley school kids heading back to class, the Idaho Foodbank is prepared to jumpstart its successful backpack program for another year. And the foodbank said late Friday that thanks to listeners of Mix 106 FM, the backpack program is sitting on some very firm shoulders.
The Idaho Foodbank provides weekend backpacks filled with food for nearly 2,000 children through the school year. School officials have identified the kids who could face two days without enough food if not for the backpack program.
The Mix 106 12-hour audiothon raised more than $71,000 and received commitments from 230 "backpack buddies"—people who pledged monthly support to the program.
Meanwhile, the Idaho Foodbank announced Friday that its Picnic in the Park program, which wrapped up Aug. 10, served nearly 53,000 meals this summer.
Redwood Park in West Boise was identified as the most-popular location over the summer, serving 5,844 lunches, followed by Ivywild Park with 5,823 lunches, and Winstead Park with 5,539 lunches.