POCATELLO — A local kidney doctor with his donation last week to the Idaho Foodbank in Pocatello helped provide some certainty for the East Idahoans who wonder where their next meal might come from.
Naeem Rahim of the Idaho Kidney Institute in Pocatello said he woke up last Tuesday morning feeling like he needed to do more to help his community during the coronavirus pandemic and gifted $10,000 to the Idaho Foodbank the next day — enough money to feed almost every food insecure person in East Idaho for a month.
“As a doctor I am doing something, but that is my job and I feel like I need to do something beyond that for the people of East Idaho who have been my neighbors for the last 17 years,” Rahim said last Wednesday from the lobby of the Idaho Foodbank branch on First Avenue in Pocatello. “The Idaho Foodbank does a great job utilizing resources, and they are short on food, which is chronically an issue anyways, but has been exasperated with the current situation we are in.”
Kia Shaw, the branch manager of the Eastern Idaho Foodbank in Pocatello says in a typical month 53,000 people from East Idaho take advantage of the food resources the food bank and its partner agencies provide. Further, Shaw says food banks can feed one well-rounded meal to five people for every $1 it receives.
Knowing many local residents who are already food insecure are now dealing with the economic fallout of a deadly virus outbreak, which has closed all Idaho schools for at least the next three weeks, Rahim is expecting the local situation to worsen before it gets any better.
“The kids don’t have a place to go eat because schools are closed and in Idaho we haven’t even seen the full brunt of it yet, “Rahim said. “We are behind a little bit, but as a physician I can tell you it will come. I hope it never does, but it will, and because I know how much it’s needed, I would like to take care of the meals for the next month for our neighbors here in East Idaho.”
Rahim was surprised to learn the Idaho Foodbank directs 94 percent of all donations to its programs and services, but almost couldn’t believe that his and every other donation for the remainder of March received a 100 percent match from Regence BlueShield of Idaho and Southern Idaho Honda Dealers.
“This time of year, monetary and food donations decrease significantly and we are usually already struggling,” Shaw said. “We do this annual campaign called Million Meals in March to raise food and funds to distribute 1.2 million pounds of food from our three branches in Boise, Lewiston and Pocatello and our 400 statewide community partners. Our goal is to raise awareness that we are still here, we really need your help, and hunger never goes away.”
Regence BlueShield of Idaho and Southern Idaho Honda Dealers both sponsored the campaign this year putting up $1 for every $1 donated.
“It’s not every day you get a phone call from someone who says they want to feed people for a month,” Shaw said. “Flat on the nose, this donation will feed the people we serve in East Idaho for more than a month because of the match, so this is a huge benefit for us. It really is. We can’t say thank you nearly enough.”
Every dollar donated to the Idaho Foodbank branch in Pocatello stays locally and the matching donations are divided among all three branches, Shaw said. The Idaho Foodbank locations serve as warehouses for the regional food pantries, of which there are seven in Pocatello. A food assistance location tool is available on the Idaho Foodbank’s website by visiting idahofoodbank.org/getfood.
“What happens at the Idaho Foodbank is slightly different than what happens at our partner agencies like food pantries,” Shaw said. “We are a warehouse to the partner agencies in the community. We give out emergency food bags that we usually build out of food drives and try to include enough to last two or three days until a person can get to a pantry. Most pantries offer higher quantities of canned and boxed goods, as well as perishable and frozen foods.”
Shaw says that one in eight people in East Idaho are food insecure every day, which equates to about 210,000 individuals. The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the lives of almost every American, but is making it even harder for those who already struggled to put enough food on the table.
“We have already seen an increase in people coming in and getting emergency food bags from us and our partner agencies have also seen a major increase in people using their services,” Shaw said. “And it’s faces we’ve never seen before.”
Shaw wants those who are in need of assistance to know the process is discrete and mostly hassle-free.
“We don’t ask questions about your situation,” she said. “We get very basic household breakdown information, but we don’t ask why, we don’t ask for proof, anything. We are not here to play food police; if you tell us you need food we will give it to you.”