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Hunger Coalition Pushes Voting to Secure Better Health Care, Safer Neighborhoods
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Friday, January 19, 2024
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

The Hunger Coalition's main order of business may be dispensing food. But, since the pandemic, this nonprofit organization based in Bellevue has gotten louder and louder about social justice issues in Blaine County.

"We can't tackle the root causes of food insecurity in Blaine County unless we solve these problems," The Coalition’s Brooke Pace McKenna told supporters at The Hunger Coalition’s annual fundraising gathering at The Argyros.

One of the key ways to make change is to get out the vote, she said. And The Hunger Coalition is trying to develop young leaders among Hispanic youth through its Bloom intern program.

"It's about having a voice at the table. Studies have shown that the higher the percentage of voters who actively participate, the better the health care, the safer the neighborhoods," she said.

Hispanics make up 30 percent of the population in Blaine County but they make up only 6 percent of elected leaders.

"We can do better. We cannot end food insecurity without all the voices at the table. We're dreaming bigger and we can't do it without you."

The Hunger Coalition had its start 20 years ago in 2003 when founder Tom Iselin enlisted a few volunteers to collect and deliver food to those who were living on a shoestring budget.

“I remember we stored the food we collected in a basement room underneath the safe at Zions Bank,” recalled Narda Pitkethly, who was among those who turned out for the fundraising gathering.

Today the Hunger Coalition occupies a campus in Bellevue where volunteers grow fresh produce in greenhouse, community members take cooking classes at the campus kitchen and leaders of social service organizations meet with food recipients about other needs they may have.

The Hunger Coalition has given out 5 million pounds of food, served 21,000 unique adults and tallied 75,000 volunteer hours, while growing thousands of pounds of fresh food.

“We ‘ve had a lot of growing pains. We’ve dreamed big and taken risks,” Co-Director Naomi Spence told supporters. “We’ve been there for people through multiple wildfires, a global pandemic and last year’s housing crisis. And it’s because of you. You showed up.”

She referenced the free Community Café lunches held every Thursday with the idea of community members meeting new friends and neighbors.

“Come have a meal with us and feel the magic,” she said.

Patti Zebrowski said she started volunteering with The Hunger Coalition six years ago and has become a staunch supporter.

“It’s about so much more than giving food out to hungry people. It connects people to other resources they need, as well. I love being in a nonprofit where the goal is to not need us anymore,” she said.

The paddles were quick to raise, spurred on by Dr. Deb Robertson’s parents giving a special gift to honor the end of her multiple-year tenure on The Hunger Coalition’s board.

“I learned that many hands make light,” she said.

Other major gifts helping to cover The Hunger Coalition’s $3.5-million budget have come from organizations like Sun Valley Tour de Force, which raised $1 million through its annual car rally.

$5,000 provides a thousand meals in the café.

$2,500 fills a hundred boxes of food.

$1,000 buys 3,000 snacks for students.

To learn more, visit https://thehungercoalition.org/.

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