Looking For Help

Food Bank has seen jump in people looking for food

By Nick Draper
Post Register
Printed on Monday, December 1, 2008

For most, the images of a crumbling economy come in the form of numbers, like lower stock quotes and higher unemployment, not faces.

Not for Laurel Redd, though.

Redd handles all the ordering and buying for the Idaho Falls Community Food Bank, and she's seen a dramatic increase in the number of needy people looking for food.

During a five-day period in mid-November, more than 250 families stopped by the food bank's facility on Placer Avenue for groceries -- spaghetti, chili, dried beans -- a roughly 100 percent jump from the same period last year.

"It's just astronomical the amount of people coming in," Redd said.

Redd and the other volunteers at the food bank aren't the only ones who've seen such a spike.

Many local organizations are seeing a marked rise of eastern Idahoans seeking assistance, from putting food on the table to keeping their home's warm during the winter.

The rise in food costs has turned many volunteers at the nonprofit Eastern Idaho Community Action Partnership into patrons, said Sheryl Bailey, the group's community services director.

"The people that we're helping are actually people that probably could have qualified for a lot of our programs in the past but have always been able to kind of squeak by," she said. "They just can't anymore."

EICAP, which provides a variety of services for needy people in nine surrounding counties, has seen a 25 percent to 35 percent increase in demand for food and probably will help 7,000 people pay their heating bills this winter, a 75 percent jump.

Things are similar at The Salvation Army.

Since July, more first-timers have visited its social services office requesting a food box, rental aid or utility assistance.

There's also been at least a 20 percent increase in Christmas gift applications, said Lori Christensen, The Salvation Army's social services director.

Not everything is bleak, however.

Contributions of food and cash to area nonprofits have either remained at or exceeded 2007 levels.

The recent Boy Scouts food drive was a huge success. It took 10 days for EICAP volunteers to sort the donations, compared with four and a half last year.

And The Salvation Army's supermarket drive Nov. 22 hauled in the most food in Christensen's 17 years at the organization.

"It was amazing how much more food people gave," she said.

The United Way's current fundraising drive is doing well, too, Executive Director Karen Cornwell said. Big donors are giving as much as they did last year, and individuals are giving a little more or at least the same amount.

"I think people are realizing that those who earn lower income are going to be lower than they've been for a long time," Cornwell said.

It's all a testament to the giving nature of eastern Idaho, Redd said.

"Without the great community support, we would not be able to meet this demand," she said.

Reporter Nick Draper can be reached at 542-6742.

How to help

If you'd like to donate food, cash or your time, call one of the organizations below. And remember, all contributions go to those in the surrounding area.

United Way, 522-2674

Idaho Falls Community Food Bank (Buck Horton), 390-1952

The Salvation Army, 522-7200

Eastern Idaho Community Action Partnership, 522-5391

Did you know?

From August 2007 to August 2008, Idaho food stamp use jumped 20.6 percent, the third highest increase in the nation, according to the Idaho Food Bank newsletter.