St. Vincent de Paul Declares Record-High Boise Food Pantry Traffic a 'Food Crisis,' Blames Government Shutdown 

click to enlarge Volunteers help clients fill their shopping baskets at the Saint Vincent de Paul food pantry in Boise, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018.  - BRIAN MYRICK/IDAHO PRESS
  • Brian Myrick/Idaho Press
  • Volunteers help clients fill their shopping baskets at the Saint Vincent de Paul food pantry in Boise, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018.
St. Vincent de Paul Southwest Idaho operates five food pantries in the Treasure Valley, including outposts in Caldwell, Nampa, Meridian, Boise and Mountain Home. Those pantries are used to high traffic, particularly during the holidays, but SVdPID Executive Director Ralph May said that's nothing compared with the influx of families he's seen during the so-called "SNAP Gap" that followed the recent partial government shutdown.

"This is above anything we saw at Thanksgiving or at Christmas," said May. "It's a surprise, but I think it's coupled with the harsh weather."

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, gap is a longer-than-average break between food stamp issue dates that remains ongoing. It occurred because the Trump Administration decided to issue February food benefits to SNAP enrollees early, on Jan. 20, in order to ensure they would reach them even if the government remained closed. While that was a boon at the time, it meant a 49-day gap between issue dates (the next one is coming up on Sunday, March 10) which has required enrollees to carefully budget their benefits—something many of them were unable to do.

COURTESY ST. VINCENT DE PAUL SOUTHWEST IDAHO
  • Courtesy St. Vincent de Paul Southwest Idaho
"Statistically, people use their food stamps in about three weeks. So if they receive their food stamps on Jan. 20, they will have used them up within three weeks. And then after that, they really don't have the resources. It's gone," May said. He added that this seems to have held true even though the allotment came early, more or less on the heels of the January SNAP payout, and enrollees received the same amount of total benefits.

As a result, SVdPID's food pantries have seen record-high traffic from families who have run out of SNAP benefits, prompting the organization to send out a press release calling the rush a "food crisis" and a "food emergency."

"There are tens of thousands of Idahoans that rely on SNAP benefits to supplement their food budget," said May. "...We were anticipating this because of this gap, but starting last week—and it accelerated all through last week and certainly we've seen it through this week so far—the pressure on our pantry has increased dramatically. More people coming are new families that are coming for help. We estimate [traffic is] somewhere around 30 percent to 40 percent up from normal."

Boise Rescue Mission, The Idaho Foodbank and some private citizens have stepped in to donate food SVdPID in the meantime to help offset demand, but May still worries about the pantries' dwindling stock.

People who'd like to help SVdPID cope with the current influx of hungry Idahoans can donate food directly to its pantries—in particular the pantry at 3209 W. Overland Road in Boise, which May said has been hardest hit—during operating hours, or make a monetary donation through its website, svdpid.org
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