Soon we'll be making our holiday plans, and the calendars will quickly fill up with events and parties for the holiday season. But it is not necessarily a joyous time for everyone, especially for those who struggle to put food on the table.
Fortunately for those in our area, there are people and organizations that are doing what they can to make a significant impact on the lives of those in our community who have difficulty making ends meet. Whether it is seniors on a fixed income, families whose parents are unemployed or underemployed, or people who just need a helping hand, the food banks see people from all walks of life.
Post Falls Food Bank
Two years ago, Post Falls Food Bank underwent a unique transformation. After operating like a typical food bank for the past 30 years, they now have a market where families can shop once a week.
“We serve people in the 83854 area code,” said Executive Director Leslie Orth. But their reach is much further than the 100 families they see each day.
Orth said Post Falls Food Bank works closely with several area nonprofits providing them with food for soup kitchens, homeless shelters, senior centers and more. “It’s a way that we can serve everybody,” said Orth of her desire to reach people beyond the geographic area that the food bank serves.
With a freezer full of an assortment of wonderful meats and endless fresh produce stocking the aisles, Orth shares that their goal is to help families out of the depths of poverty by teaching them everything from nutrition, providing them with recipes and working with other organizations that will assist their clients.
“We have a representative from an employment service who comes in once a month,” said Orth. “It’s a great resource for our clients as so many are underemployed.”
The market-style food bank helps provide dignity and accountability to clients. They are given a certain number of points to utilize and can shop once a week.
“People in poverty typically do not get enough produce,” explained Orth. “It is too expensive, so they will be drawn to the dried and prepared foods in the grocery store. All our produce is always zero points, and there is no limit to the amount one can take. Our goal is for families to come in and be able to supplement their food budget.”
The 4,000-square-foot facility includes the market and a warehouse. Six days each week, they send a refrigerated truck to various grocery stores with whom Post Falls Food Bank has a relationship. “Eighty percent of what is on our shelves comes from Grocery Rescue,” explained Orth.
When a store has items for which the due date is approaching, the Post Falls Food Bank will pick up those items and stock them for their customers. They inspect the produce, and if it is not fresh, they will set it aside for local farmers who use it to feed their animals. “Instead of all the food going into our landfills, it is now being put to good use,” said Orth.
Unlike some food banks, Post Falls Food Bank requires registration and verification of income. “We want to make sure what we are giving away is going to those who really need it,” said Orth.
For first-time clients, the staff or a volunteer will accompany them to help them navigate their way and provide tips on how to be a smart shopper.
One of Post Falls Food Bank’s partners is Second Harvest in Spokane. Julie Humphreys is the community relations manager for Second Harvest, a food provider for 26 counties, including 21 in Eastern Washington and five in North Idaho.
What many people may not realize is that Second Harvest does much more than simply provide food. They also have a kitchen, which has been open for just over two years, where they offer community cooking classes and much more.
It was a natural progression to add on the kitchen after staff noticed how many people declined healthier foods because they did not know how to cook them, especially things like lentils and squash. “Our mission is to provide healthier food with the goal of also providing nutrition education,” said Humphreys. “We want to make an impact on people’s health and help them be sustainable.”
With instruction on cooking things from scratch, people are starting to feel more confident in their abilities and are more inclined to take fresh produce when they visit food banks.
“Almost half of what we distribute is fresh food,” said Humphreys.
At Second Harvest, the educational classes involve more than cooking. They offer instruction in things such as knife sharpening and many other tools of the trade including shopping tips.
While the community classes are offered for free, there are also classes one pays for. “When people take a for-pay class, they help Second Harvest get nutritious food to those who need it most, and they provide food bank clients and other people in need cooking classes at no charge,” said Humphreys. “That’s a good feeling when you know you are helping someone else. I think that’s part of the reason our classes are successful. That and we offer quality, fun classes at a good price and often with a guest chef as instructor.”
Chef Laurent Zirotti from Fleur de Sel in Post Falls taught a paid class when Second Harvest first opened its kitchen. He witnessed the work that was being done by Second Harvest and offered to be part of the community classes offered for free.
“We work with a large group of chefs from the Spokane, Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene area,” said Humphreys of people in the trade who are eager to help.
As we enter the season of giving, try to remember those less fortunate. Next time you are at the grocery store, put a few extra items in your grocery cart and swing by a local food bank. It will give you and those you help a good feeling this holiday season. And who knows, it may just become a year-round habit!