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Building Community Over Farm Fresh Food
Wednesday, November 15, 2023


Judy Foster took a bite of pizza as she waited for Sabina Rudas to transcribe her thoughts from Spanish to English via an App on her cellphone.

The two met over the weekly community lunches held from noon to 2 p.m. Thursdays at The Hunger Coalition’s Bloom Community Food Center in Bellevue. And they’ve been meeting up ever since.

Foster always brings a list of events going on in the Wood River Valley that she thinks Rudas might like to attend, explaining them with the help of a three-inch thick English-Spanish dictionary. Rudas, in turn,  explains some of the customs of her native country to Foster.

“I ran in to her when she came with her daughters. I don’t speak Spanish and she has trouble with English so we thought it would never work. But we’re making do and getting to know each other in the process,” said Foster. “I really love creating community and that’s what this is about. You see people from every walk of life imaginable.”

The free community lunches prepared in the Community Kitchen and served in the Community Café have long been a dream of the Hunger Coalition as a way to bring the community together over salad greens raised in the Food Center’s greenhouses and dishes of curry, pasta, enchiladas, tacos and chicken asado.

“They’ve been wildly popular, the food is off the charts delicious and each meal incorporates ingredients harvested from our greenhouses right outside our café doors,” said Kristin McMahon, communications manager for The Hunger Coalition.

On this particular day, a couple Mormon missionaries reviewed the day’s plans while office workers enjoyed an unseasonably warm afternoon on the patio. A couple of mothers, their babies wrapped in colorful Peruvian blankets hanging from their shoulders, smiled as they sat down. Others introduced themselves to strangers over a shared lunch while children played Pictionary and drew pictures in the corner.

Volunteers prepare the meals under the watchful eye of former Peace Corps volunteer Amanda Moulton and occasional guest chefs, such as Geoff Felsenthal, the culinary director at the Sun Valley Culinary Institute during its first year.

Robin Leavitt and Trina Peters busied themselves creating a dill-style dressing by adding dill, salt and pepper, onion powder and vinegar to heaping bowls of mayonnaise.

Leavitt volunteers twice a month.

“It’s fun. Like today—I’m spooning more mayonnaise than I put on sandwiches,” said Leavitt.

Peters helped bake 550 pumpkin pies for the Thanksgiving boxes The Hunger Coalition gave out last year.

“It was like a pie baking marathon for two weeks,” she said.

As Leavitt and Peters tended to the salad bar, Teofilia Mendoza and Lisa Chaney rolled out 40 rolls of pizza dough made with flour sourced from Bellevue’s Hillside Grain. They then spread marinara sauce with roasted red peppers made from the summer’s bounty on the dough and topped it with a variety of ingredients, including pesto,  arugula, tomatoes and cheese.

“Maybe it’s not perfectly round, but it’s pretty tasty looking,” said Moulton.

Chaney said she considers herself a foodie who loves to cook: “My husband recently retired so we spend a lot of time in the kitchen together, making chicken noodle soup and other things. I always wanted to volunteer so this was recommended for me”

With the lunches dialed in, The Hunger Coalition recently began offering community suppers from 4 to 6 p.m. Mondays designed for those who can’t take part in the lunches.

“We’re so grateful to be able to do this, to have all these people come in this beautiful space,” said McMahon. “We hope we get lots of different people from the community. While we feed people, our main goal is not feeding people but building community.”


The Hunger Coalition recently started a weekly Cooking Club or Club de Cocina.

The free cooking club is held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays at the Community Kitchen at 110 Honeysuckle St. in Bellevue. Participants end the evening eating what they prepared. Or, they may take home a couple cans of preserves. To sign up, call 208-788-0121.

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