Food Glorious Food


SlaIMG_3647-SMILEck season has arrived. What money is left from the busy summer is fading fast, leaving many people wondering how they will pull off Thanksgiving dinner this year.

If you’re facing an empty holiday table this fall, know that the community is here to help…. Read the full Idaho Mountain Express article here.


Assessing Hunger and Food in the Wood River Valley

SUN VALLEY • The Wood River Valley doesn’t have anything like MM Heath Farms growing beans in Buhl or food-processing factories such as Chobani in Twin Falls.

But perhaps the valley could create an opportunity to process food and to expand the growing season through hoop gardens and other means.

These were some of the ideas cited at the start of a three-year conversation about food by dozens of representatives from the Blaine County School District, St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center, Albertson’s, the Wood River Farmers Market and The Local Food Alliance.

The discussion was instigated by The Hunger Coalition, which will have two AmeriCorps VISTA members assigned to the project for the next three years. The Public Policy Research Center at Boise State University also is involved.

“Obviously, we’re interested in people who don’t get enough to eat. But we also want to figure out how those who are better off can have better access to healthy, organic, locally produced food,” said Jeanne Liston, executive director of The Hunger Coalition.

“What we’re doing encompasses everyone, poor and wealthy,” Liston said. “And the solutions could end up improving our economic well-being by providing more jobs and resources to break the cycle of poverty.”

A food security assessment team is being formed to determine how many people have trouble getting fed in a county where Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom Hanks own multi-million dollar homes.

The number of people accessing the coalition’s mobile food banks has risen in the past year, even as the economy has improved.

Sage School students were baking 400 pies this week to pass out with Thanksgiving holiday baskets for the needy.

Harry Weekes, who heads the Hailey school, said his students could end food insecurity in the valley with a little help from the community.

The students raised $3,500 for the cause by organizing a farm-to-table dinner. They gleaned 1,000 pounds of fruit and collected 2,000 pounds of canned food by canvassing homes. They could do even more if they had access to a working farm with a greenhouse, Weekes said.

“We could put 10 students there two hours a day four days a week,” he said. “It would have a major impact.”

In addition to food insecurity, the study will address how residents could build a hub to collect, store, process and distribute locally produced foods between farmers, institutions and consumers. It also will explore whether a commercial community kitchen could help people produce jams and other food items for sale.

School gardens or greenhouses could educate students about where their food comes from and healthy nutrition. And the study group wants to figure out how to provide for the mentally ill and people with other barriers that keep them from getting food.

“Some people come forward to get help for their animals but not themselves,” said Sarah Seppa, a registered dietician with St. Luke’s. “How do we provide access so they don’t feel stigmatized?

Help for those impacted by the Beaver Creek Fires

Originally published in The Weekly Sun 9/4/2013

After weeks of smoke-filled skies, it was almost possible to forget how delightful a blue bird day can be! As the smoke clears and firefighters trickle off to the next blaze, more than just the clear blue sky is returning to our valley—reality is coming back as well. For many of our local families and individuals, the harsh realities of the Beaver Creek Fire may impact them for months to come.

After the Castle Rock Fire in 2007, here at The Hunger Coalition we learned the true impact of such a crisis will be seen long after the smoldering embers have gone cold. The economic loss to our resort community is going to hit hardest those who were already hanging by a thread. For families dependent upon the income from a usually busy August, the impending slack season may cause a new crisis.

Food is one of the most fundamental of human necessities; yet people suffering from economic instability sacrifice balanced meals in order to get the bills paid. When money is tight, those critical nutrients found in fresh fruits and veggies are given up. Parents find themselves skipping a meal so their children have more on their plates. Nutrition and health get bumped to keep a roof over their heads.

At The Hunger Coalition, we don’t think that’s okay. We see a healthy, thriving community arising only when every single member of our community is also healthy and thriving. Statistics released last spring indicate there are over 3,000 “food insecure” children and adults living in Blaine County. By food insecure, we mean they don’t know from where there next meal will come. It is our expectation that more people will find themselves tackling food insecurity as the economic impact of the fire is fully felt in the months to come.

Studies conducted by the US Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion found a disturbing anomaly: people who are the most food insecure are at greater risk for obesity. Food insecure families tend to consume lower cost, prepared foods which are lower in nutritional value instead of more wholesome and expensive options like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The long-term effects of hunger and malnutrition in children include behavioral problems, a decreased ability to learn and perform well in school and an increased frequency of disciplinary issues.

If you find yourself battling hunger and food insecurity in the coming weeks and months, The Hunger Coalition wants you to know there is help. Proper nutrition is key to stress management, mental health and, especially for children, behavioral and developmental well-being. Make sure that you and your family have the foods you need to manage the situation you are in. There are resources in this community to make sure you not only survive this difficult time, but thrive. Our goal is to provide healthy food and a connection to resources in the most respectful manner possible, because maintaining dignity and a sense of self in times of crisis is critical to an individual’s success, and therefore, the community’s. Let us help connect you to the resources you need. Call 788-0121 today for more information.


The Importance of Feeding Children Well

Originally published in The Weekly Sun 6/19/13

Summertime is so delightful! No matter how thrilled we adults are with warmer, longer days, children experience summer on a completely different level.  As the years pass, we adults get farther removed from the exhilaration that comes with the start of summer vacation.  We’re hard-pressed to recall that feeling of freedom and sense of boundless possibilities the longer days of summer bring to school aged children.

This is the first summer my son is old enough to participate in some of the amazing summer camp programs available to local children.  As I pack his lunch and snacks each morning, I can’t help but share his trembling excitement for a day of adventures unknown.  For some local children, however, summer brings with it the end of regular meals provided at school.  As I pack my son’s lunch, I also can’t help but feel for the children who may be facing hunger this summer.

One in five children in America struggles with hunger.  Only slightly better here in Blaine County, 18%, or 930 of our local children are missing meals or going to bed hungry every day.  To these children, summer means the end of steady, predictable breakfasts and lunches provided by the school district.  To these children, summer may not hold that wonderful sense of freedom and boundless possibilities.

On June 10, the USDA’s Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack kicked off the annual Summer Food Service Program, a series of federally-funded programs operated through partnerships with the USDA, state agencies and local organizations.  Keeping kids fed isn’t just a feel-good notion, it’s essential to building healthy communities.  When children miss out on critical nutrition, they suffer from health issues and learning loss.  Keeping kids fed through the summer means they can return to school ready to learn and with a better chance to succeed and grow into healthy, contributing community members.

Locally, The Hunger Coalition, in partnership with the Blaine County School District, is overseeing a summer food program called The Lunch Connection. With free breakfasts and lunches provided to all children 18 and under, as well as educational programs provided by the Environmental Resource Center and Bellevue Library, local children are getting the chance to stay health and engaged this summer.  A wildly popular program, The Lunch Connection served over 5,000 breakfasts and lunches last summer!

Currently located at Woodside Elementary School in Hailey, The Lunch Connection is getting a makeover this year to benefit more of our local children.  In collaboration with the YMCA, Blaine County Recreation District and Atkinsons’ Park summer programs, The Hunger Coalition is piloting a “sack lunch” project for at-risk youth in the north valley and those who may not be able to make it to Woodside Elementary for hot meals.  The meals are free and all children qualify.

Raising healthy children really does take a village.  I am grateful for the individuals in our community caring enough to not only ensure their own children are growing up to be healthy adults, but the children of others are as well.  For more information or to get involved in feeding our community’s children, please visit or call Naomi Spence at 788-0121.

The Health Benefits of Volunteering

In honor of National Volunteer Month, we are re-posting an article we wrote on volunteering.  For more information on our volunteer opportunities, click here.

Originally published in The Weekly Sun 12/24/12

Last week, The Sun published a wonderful special section, called GIVE, highlighting local volunteers and nonprofits.  At The Hunger Coalition, we have dozens of regular volunteers who help us out each week and we see the light in their eyes and the spring in their step as they carry bags full of donated food, help to stock our shelves, or load the van full of fresh produce for distribution at our Mobile Food Bank.  Turns out that volunteering is not only good for your mental health, providing feelings of pride and satisfaction that come from serving others, but it’s also great for your physical health.

The Corporation for National and Community Service, Office of Research and Policy Development, released a lengthy publication called The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research.  They compiled data from a variety of studies focused on quantifying the affects seen from volunteering, often called the “helper’s high”.  Visit their website at to read the entire report.

The results in the report are clear: volunteering can lead to a longer, healthier life.  Study participants reported higher levels of satisfaction, happiness, higher self-esteem, a sense of control over their lives, and showed lower levels of depression.  Volunteering reduces stress, a sure factor in improved health.   Older adults showed the greatest health benefits from volunteering.  That’s great news for aging Baby Boomers, a group which is volunteering at a higher rate than previous older adult generations.

Here at The Hunger Coalition, we have an amazing group of volunteers who come from a variety of backgrounds.  We are incredibly grateful to these people who choose to provide their time in helping us end hunger in our community.  In 2011, we had 150 regular volunteers who contributed over 6,000 hours! They are such an inspiring group, our staff of normally very serious professionals filmed a whimsical thank you video that can be found on our Facebook page.

Many of our volunteers are former or current food recipients, happy to give back to an organization that helped them through tough times.  They work right next to donors, volunteering their time as well as their treasure to see that their neighbors in need are getting the assistance they require.  One of the things we feel strongly about is that a healthy, thriving community comes from everyone who lives here being healthy, thriving and contributing community members.

Ironically, we are about to enter the time when volunteers seem to drop away, but the need from our community is the greatest.  Winter can be very tough with the colder temperatures and decreased job opportunities impacting lives on many levels. It’s time to make those New Year’s resolutions.  Why not choose better health this year and dedicate some time to helping others?  We have so many organizations that will benefit from your service.  Volunteering helps to make our community a better place to live, but the real benefit will come to you.

So cheers to your health and may you have a very happy new year!

To Your Health!

Originally published in The Weekly Sun, 09/19/2012

For many of us, fall is a wonderful time of year. The crisp September mornings herald the approach of winter, while the days are still warm enough to tease us with the last lingering bits of summer. Outdoor activities can still be enjoyed without the addition of lots of extra clothes. The change of season is palpable and it helps us create a change in focus.

At The Hunger Coalition, our minds are focused on the return to school, a steady stream of fresh produce from the fall harvest and upcoming Hunger Awareness Month in October. Fall brings with it an increase in activity for us as we prepare for what we call “the hunger season,” those months when employment opportunities diminish, utility bills rise and weather conditions impact people on so many different levels.

Hunger is an issue that impacts us all.

To be a healthy, thriving community everyone who lives here needs to be healthy, thriving and contributing community members. According to a study conducted by Feeding America, a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to eradicating hunger in our country, nearly 15% of our local population – that is 3,090 Blaine County residents- are experiencing hunger. Over one third of them are children.

Due to the lingering economic crisis, more children are enrolling in free and reduced cost meal programs through the school district; an increase that is more surprising given the decrease in overall enrollment in Blaine County schools. More families are finding themselves struggling to make ends meet.

A common misconception is that poverty and hunger go hand in hand. In reality, although related, unemployment is a stronger factor in why families find themselves in the position where they have to skip meals or have no idea when they will eat next. Imagine that you are in mid-career with kids in school and you lose your job or have a health crisis that leaves you with extensive medical bills. You’ve exhausted your savings. You’ve cut corners wherever you can. You have never had to seek out help before and you know you are capable, but you just aren’t making it. What do you do?

At The Hunger Coalition, we’re often asked about our neighbors in need. Questions range from disbelief, “Are there really hungry people in Blaine County?” to critical, “If it’s so hard to live here, why come here or stay here?” In response, we point to the statistics about this quiet epidemic. One in six people in the United States is dealing with hunger on a daily basis. Locally, these are often hard-working families who have raised their children in our schools, volunteered in our community and many, until recently, owned their own homes. They are our neighbors and they have the same hopes and dreams as the rest of us. They live here because they want to make a better life for themselves and their children.

As we move from the season of summer playfulness into the season of reflection and gratitude, now is a great time to meditate on the abundance that many of us have in our lives. The coming season is marked by the celebrations of Thanksgiving and holiday cheer. These celebrations include feasts where the abundance of food is meant to add a comforting contrast to the long, dark and cold days of the season. For many in our small community, these feasts will be meager or won’t exist at all.

So please think of your neighbor this season. Reach out a helping hand. No one is undeserving.


Published Media – Local & National News

  •  September 26, 2011:  The Nation’s Unemployment Landscape  –  The recession and the slow recovery have reshaped the nation’s economic map, with the highest unemployment rates now found in the West and the South.  Click Here for Link to Map
  •  September 26, 2011:  Deep Recession Sharply Altered U.S. Jobless Map  –  When the unemployment rate rose in most states last month, it underscored the extent to which the deeprecession, the anemic recovery and the lingering crisis of joblessness are beginning to reshape the nation’s economic map. (Read More)
  • September 20, 2011:  Idaho WIC program is among Top3 in the nation for breast-feeding rates  –  The Idaho Women, Infants and Children supplemental nutrition program was awarded a $1.1 million high-performance bonus for attaining one of the highest breast-feeding rates in the nation.  The bonus from the U.S. Deptartment of Agriculture recognizes Idaho for having one of the Top 3 breast-feeding rates in the nation, with 32 percent of Idaho WIC-enrolled infants being fully breast-fed.  (Read more)
  • September 13, 2011:  Soaring Poverty Casts Spotlight on ‘Lost Decade’ – Anoth er 2.6 million people slipped into poverty in the United states last year, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday, and the number of Americans living below the official poverty line, 46.2 million people was the highest number in the 52 years the bureau has been pubilshing figures on it.  New York Times
  • September 7, 2011:  USDA: Increased Food Aid Kept Hunger Rate Steady’ – Despite the bad ecnomoy, the number of Americans who struggle to get enough to eat did not grow last year, and in some cases, declined, according to  new government data.  National Public Radio Read More or hear the NPR Broadcast Here

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