Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

By Madysen McLain
Gazette Reporter 

Food insecurity programs in county call for more volunteers, less stigma


June 20, 2019

Reports from the past few years show Whitman County with high rates of food insecurity and poverty. To help combat those issues there are several food programs that help serve those struggling in the county. However, program managers have expressed the need for more volunteers from the community.

Paige Collins, Whitman County Council on Aging (COA) executive director, said the two biggest problems with attracting residents to use their services is finding transportation to pantries and the stigma about people who use a food bank.

She said anyone in the county can call COAST Transportation to get a free ride to one of the 11 pantries in the county.

Pantries are located in Albion, Colfax, Colton/Uniontown, Endicott, Garfield, Lacrosse, Malden/Pine City, Oakesdale, Palouse, Rosalia Commodities, Rosalia Pantry, St. John and Tekoa.

The COA supports the pantries with buying food, repairs and administrative work.

“Nowadays, it’s working families that are unable to make ends meet who really need our services,” Collins said.

She said often people see using the Colfax food pantry as a negative thing, but if you need to, then you should.

Another service offered by the COA is Meals on Wheels in Pullman and Colfax for seniors. There are 11 clients using the service in Colfax.

Collins said it has been a struggle to find volunteers that will deliver to the 11 home delivery client's homes in Colfax. Meals on Wheels operates every day of the year, and she said it’s hard to find people who can volunteer that much time. Volunteers pick up the meals for seniors at the Whitman Hospital.

“We usually have groups, like service or church groups, take a whole month of delivery, but just like us, the groups are shrinking,” Collins said.

Collins said the idea for more funding for the COA was presented to state representatives to fund the purchase of the Colfax Food Pantry, and in this legislative session they approved $247,000.

“We thought it was a long shot,” Collins said.

The COA had been renting the building, but with the new funding they can purchase the building, replace the entire roof and fix some minor issues.

She said the contract and the grant should be complete this summer.

Reports both from the Feeding America Map the Meal Gap study and United Way show Whitman County with high poverty and food insecurity rates.

From the recently released United Way study, Whitman County as of 2017, had 17,185 households considered to be in poverty, which totals to 27.7 percent of the county in poverty.

Ferry County was deemed second in the state for highest poverty levels with 23 percent of residents in poverty.

ALICE is a threshold defined by United Way as Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. This threshold means people living under it cannot afford, “the bare minimum economic survival level,” which varies between counties.

Whitman County has a 52 percent of residents above the ALICE threshold.

2017 reported that 18.3 percent of Whitman County residents are food insecure, which means 8,760 people. For 2016 the percentage was 19.7 and 19.9 percent for 2015.

The report showed that $5,345,000 is needed in additional money for required food in the county.

The USDA funds a program that distributes free lunches to communities during the summertime. Colfax and Albion have programs funded by the USDA.

Linhda Sagen, Pullman Schools Pantry Program coordinator, said to receive funding from USDA the community has to have a Free and Reduced Lunch percentage of 50 percent or more to qualify.

Pullman Schools are at 30 percent, so they could not receive funding for a lunch program, instead mothers in the community created their own.

The Pullman Schools Pantry Program began two and a half years ago, and has continued to run solely on donations. The program is run all school year, and students are given food bags once a week.

Students don’t have to fill out a form, there is no financial qualifier for the program.

Teachers in the elementary schools put the food bags in the kid’s backpacks for them, and high school students pick up the food in the counselor’s office.

Sagen said the Palouse School District has a similar program, and they modeled the Pullman pantry off of Moscow School District’s program.

She said the pantry program in Pullman doesn’t have the capacity to put on a summer program because it requires several volunteers and donations. Another issue is not having a central location for Pullman kids to meet to get a free meal, and the hills make walking difficult.

The program receives donations from food drives, online donations, grants and food donations.

Mobile farm stand

Joe Astorino, Pullman Community Action Center gardens and nutrition specialist, said the Palouse Tables Project is working to create a mobile farm for those who are food insecure.

A group of partners, about 12 organizations, around Whitman County submitted a grant proposal to the USDA to receive funding to purchase a vehicle the group could transform into a mobile farm stand.

He said the group won’t find out if they secured funding until later this summer.

The project would purchase food supplies from Whitman County farmers. The fresh produce would be on a “pay as you can,” basis and they would serve everyone, Astorino said.

The vehicle would travel around the region to rural areas.

Some of the community partners to the Community Action Center are Backyard Harvest, the COA, Poverty on the Palouse and the Whitman County Food Coalition.

Astorino said the Whitman County Food Coalition helped with the framework for the USDA grant and meets every month.

In addition to the farm stand, the organizations want to support nutrition education, Astorino said. This includes education about the SNAP program and how to access healthy foods.

“We want to support locals that don’t have access to fresh food,” he said.


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