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Community Food Basket raises over 160,000 pounds of food for needy families

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Susan Stucki, from JustServe, Launie Shelman, from the local executive committee for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper, and Ariel Jackson, executive director of the Idaho Falls Community Food Basket pose in front of the food donations accrued during a November food drive on Dec. 1, 2020. The donations amounted to more than 160,000 pounds of food. | Kalama Hines, EastIdahoNews.com

IDAHO FALLS — In response to a growing need across eastern Idaho, the Idaho Falls Community Food Basket set a lofty goal to raise 120,000 pounds of food in November.

Food drives at this time of year typically result in about half as much donated, but after some hard work by the community, the food pantry not only met their goal but surpassed it by a large margin.

Food Basket spokeswoman Ariel Jackson said she was blown away when she learned the donations passed 160,000 pounds. It’s left their warehouse fuller than it has ever been during her three years with the organization.

“I’ve lived here my whole life and I really thought I (had a feeling for) how giving the community was,” Jackson told EastIdahoNews.com “But when there’s a need in this community, they come running.”

Much of the canvassing and organization of the food drive was spearheaded by Launie Shelman, a member of the local executive committee for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Food came pouring in from the drive, which inspired Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper to name December 2020 as “Food Insecurity Awareness Month” in Idaho Falls.

“We commend all citizens of the community for participating in this worthwhile endeavor to help those in need,” Casper said.

Along with Shelman, the month-long drive was powered by advertising paid for by Melaleuca and volunteer support from JustServe.org, a website that provides community members with volunteer opportunities fitting their availability.

A Tuesday morning donation from Melaleuca capped off a donation total that had previously been tallied at just under 158,000 pounds of food.

“We just saw a wonderful food drive that was being organized organically,” Melaleuca spokesperson Tony Lima said. “And from Melaleuca’s perspective, it was exciting to jump in and help out.” 

In her proclamation, Casper urged the people of Idaho Falls to consider those in need during the Christmas season even more this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jackson said managing the food bank during the COVID-19 pandemic has been about “putting out fires” on a regular basis, including the requirements to re-outfit the distribution center with plexiglass dividers and limiting the number of recipients allowed in the facility to three at a time. Asking 90% of the volunteers to “stay home and stay safe” due to their classification as high-risk for COVID-19 has also made the day-to-day operations much more difficult.

Still, the food bank served 2,300 families in October — more than double the 1,100 families served on average before the pandemic.

“If we can relieve some of that stress for families — as far as what (they are) putting on the table for dinner — they can save that room in their mind for ‘how am I going to get to work tomorrow?’ Or ‘How am I going to get my car fixed?’ and tackle some of these other problems on their way to something better,” Jackson said.

Casper also cautioned there is a continual need for support. She said there is often a downturn in donations during the spring when the need is as high as ever with children preparing for summer breaks.

While all parties involved are hopeful that donations will continue to help those in need through slower donation months, Shelman was focused on the community’s accomplishment in November.

“Our community stood up, and that is something you don’t see,” Shelman said. “It was incredible — it was amazing to watch thousands and thousands of hands bring food to a table.”

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