Food Bank in a Bind

Charity's director worries that storage facility could be gone by New Year's

By Nicole Stricker
Post Register
Printed on Thursday, December 1, 2005

Local groups that feed the hungry could soon find themselves homeless.

The Idaho Falls Community Food Bank's Placer Avenue headquarters is secure, but it could lose its storage warehouse space Dec. 31.

If that happens, the organization will have nowhere to store the thousands of cans of food collected during annual drives held by the Boy Scouts and letter carriers. Losing that space could force the food bank to spend thousands a year to rent and heat its own facility.

The Idaho Falls Community Food Bank is one of three groups supported by the Post Register's Goodfellow Fund. The fund has been raising money for eastern Idaho social-service agencies for 73 years and has raised $9,790 so far this year. Last year, the fund donated nearly $70,000. About $29,000 went to the food bank, which spent it all on food and toiletries to supplement food drive donations.

But that could change if the organization has to start renting storage space.

"For every dollar I'd pay in rent, that's a dollar less in food I can distribute to the hungry," said Buck Horton, the food bank's director.

For a dozen years, the food bank has stored donations at a warehouse rented by the Eastern Idaho Community Action Partnership (formerly Eastern Idaho Special Services Agency). EICAP picks up the donated food, stores it and distributes it to the food bank, food pantries in surrounding counties, The Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul and a handful of local churches. About half of the donations and storage space go to the food bank.

EICAP pays $1,700 a month to rent the storage warehouse and $1,500 a month to heat the space, which must be at least 50 degrees to safely store food, Horton said.

But cuts in EICAP's federal funding have left it struggling to pay the rent. Its lease expires Dec. 31, and the group is hoping for either a deal from its landlord or a donation from someone else. Otherwise, it may have to ask the food bank and other partner organizations to chip in rent money, said Sheryl Bailey, EICAP's community services director.

Horton and EICAP officials will meet today to discuss their options. They need between 3,000 and 5,000 square feet of space (the food bank would use about half that). The food bank's 1,100-square-foot Placer Avenue building has only about 300 square feet of storage space -- not nearly enough to handle the nearly 200,000 cans of food collected throughout the year, Horton said.

"It's such a giving community," Horton said. "It's phenomenal compared to other communities, even within the state."

Science and Medicine reporter Nicole Stricker can be reached at 542-6763.