Post Falls Food Bank serves community people who face hard choices
Sherry Wallace, executive director of the Post Falls Food Bank, considers it “an amazing gift” to help prevent hunger.
|Sherry Wallace shows some of the food bank stock.|
For 25 years, the Post Falls Food Bank has served the needs of hungry people in Post Falls, Idaho, as an independent, nonprofit corporation. It began in 1986 as an outreach of Post Falls’ Calvary Lutheran Church and incorporated in 1989.
The food bank, at 415 E. Third Ave., uses no federal, state, county or city funds. It relies on the community’s generosity.
“It is a gift from the community to the community. Without their support, we couldn’t do what we’re doing,” Sherry said.
Nationwide, about one in six people face hunger. In Post Falls, about 10 percent of the population lives with food insecurities.
She said the food bank seeks to eliminate food insecurities locally.
In 2013, they served 1,132 households with 2,800 individuals, providing 21,116 grocery carts of food assistance with 1.7 million pounds of food donations they received.
“The largest group of people we serve are the underemployed and working poor,” Sherry said.
Many work part time, often holding multiple part time jobs. One parent may work in the day, and the other at night, because they cannot afford childcare.
About 30 percent of adults are unable to work because of a disability and about 25 percent are senior citizens. Many from the “greatest generation” era are too proud to come, she noted.
Sherry described choices people with few resources make.
Many spend their money first on shelter, then utilities, transportation and medication, and finally on food, she said.
“Most guests—I don’t like to call them clients—are wonderful people hit by life circumstances,” she continued. “They rely on the food bank to help sustain them.
“It’s difficult,” she said. “I’ve had people express relief when I told them I could help them, after they had been denied food stamps because they earned just a couple dollars over the limit to qualify. Some start crying when they see what we can give them.”
Individuals who qualify can come for a basket of food once a week. They receive produce, dairy, baked goods like bread, non-perishables and meat. Their income and what is in the inventory determine what and how much they receive, Sherry explained.
The food bank also runs the Post Falls Weekend Nutrition Backpack Program. Eligible elementary school children receive weekly packs of food to take home for weekends during the school year. For some, this is the only food they might eat on the weekend. Packs contain nutritious, nonperishable meals a child can easily prepare.
About 60 percent of children in Kootenai County qualify for free or reduced lunches based on their family’s income, she said. Currently the backpack program serves 105 children who school administrators identify as those most in need of weekend food. This is only two percent of those eligible, but the food bank cannot afford to do more.
Sherry said none of this could happen without the community.
“So many good people and agencies are doing great work to help people,” she said. “The federal government recently voted again to cut billions of dollars from food stamps, which puts more pressure on the community.”
Some volunteer because of their faith, and others out of the goodness of their hearts, she said.
“Together they make up the rich fabric of our communities,” Sherry said.
The food bank operates with four staff members and a core group of 30 to 40 volunteers. A total of 393 volunteers contributed 16,559 volunteer hours in 2013. Several volunteers have helped for more than 20 years. Many are retired and want to give back to the community. Because they can socialize while they help others, many have made friends there.
People volunteer several ways.
• Grocery rescue specialists drive around and collect food grocery stores donate. The stores share food with relief agencies when they have extra, so food does not go to waste.
• Food processing specialists sort food that comes to the food bank from grocery store donations or food drives. They keep track of it in-house and prepare grocery carts of food for guests.
• Guest specialists directly interact with individuals coming for assistance. They help check in the guests and register them for ongoing services. They then deliver the food to them.
• Others help with the “Plant-A-Row for the Hungry” campaign. People growing vegetables plant an extra row to give to organizations feeding those in need.
• Calvary Lutheran Church continues to support the food bank with its own garden. They donate 80 percent of their produce. Volunteer gardeners use their garden space to help support that effort.
In March and April 2014, the food bank has been participating in the Feinstein Challenge that is matching funds donated.
With donations and grants, the food bank board purchased an energy-efficient walk-in freezer in July 2013 and burned their mortgage Jan. 7, 2014.
She thinks of the food bank structure as a three-legged stool.
“Volunteers are the soul of the work. Grocery partners are the meat and potatoes. Donors are the heartbeat,” she said. “Without those three legs, we couldn’t do what we do.”
Sherry came to the food bank four years ago. She was working at North Idaho College, doing contracted and customized training, using skills she gained at Eastern Washington University, where she earned a master’s degree in communication.
She became involved with the community and joined a group that ran an annual food drive.
Sherry had other background with nonprofits and served on the Post Falls Chamber of Commerce.
“Contacts I made over the years help me serve this organization,” said Sherry, who sees herself as a steward of the food bank’s resources. She believes in using her skills and learning something new each day to contribute to the betterment of the community.
Copyright © April 2014 - The Fig Tree