A county of contrast: Food nonprofit spearheads equitable hunger solutions in rural Idaho

The Hunger Coalition is a Bellevue-based nonprofit that provides food resources to the Wood River Valley

By: - August 21, 2023 4:30 am

The Bloom Community Farm is where the Hunger Coalition grows its vegetables, herbs and fruit. According to the coalition’s 2022 impact report, its volunteers and interns harvested more than 7,000 pounds of food that wound up in food distribution boxes for community members. (Mia Maldonado / Idaho Capital Sun)

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BELLEVUE, Idaho — Judy Foster, a retired, long-time Hailey resident, regularly spends her Thursdays at the Hunger Coalition in Bellevue where she can enjoy a free community meal and meet other locals. 

“Every time I come, I meet new people and new friends,” she said. “At 80, that doesn’t occur every day in your life, so it’s a wonderful time.” 

In an interview, Foster said that there is no better way to bring a community together than through the Hunger Coalition’s work.

Nestled in the Wood River Valley south of the resort area of Ketchum and Sun Valley, the Hunger Coalition is a nonprofit focused on providing healthy food to a community living with intense inequality. 

The nonprofit’s mission is to build a healthy community by addressing the root causes of food insecurity. According to the coalition’s 2022 impact report, it provides food to over 500 families each week, and there are no requirements for people to receive food from the organization.

Brooke Pace McKenna, the co-executive director, said in an interview that Blaine County is a “county of contrast.”

“There’s incredibly wealthy and incredibly poor people literally living right next to each other,” she said. “The people who are struggling to make ends meet have to pay the same prices at the grocery store as the millionaire who’s coming here and visiting their third home.”

McKenna said the region’s biggest challenge is its cost of living. 

Ketchum is the most expensive place to buy a home in Blaine County, with the median price of a home set at $1.4 million
as of July, according to real estate data from Redfin. (Mia Maldonado/Idaho Capital Sun)

According to Redfin, the median price for a Blaine County home in July was $1.1 million — meaning that half of the homes for sale were priced above that mark, and half were priced below it. 

Data from Redfin also shows the median price of a home in Blaine County ranges from $400,000 to more than $1 million across its towns: 

  • Carey: $439,000
  • Bellevue: $635,000 
  • Hailey: $645,000
  • Sun Valley: $1.1 million
  • Ketchum: $1.4 million

McKenna, who has worked at the Hunger Coalition for 11 years, said that with a very wealthy population living in Blaine County, there is also a very generous population that funds the coalition’s work. 

In a weekly community meal, Hunger Coalition staff made lasagna with home-grown zucchini, carrots, tomatoes, herbs and greens from its farm. (Mia Maldonado / Idaho Capital Sun)

“We’re in that unique position of being able to really utilize a lot of the resources that come to Blaine County to actually create solutions to the issues that we face in our communities,” she said. “We have big problems, but we also have big money to be able to tackle those problems with local solutions.”

Since opening its doors in 2003, the nonprofit has evolved into much more than a traditional food bank, McKenna said, but it is a space where locals can find a food pantry, heated greenhouses, a kitchen and a community dining space. 

From volunteering in the garden in exchange for fresh vegetables, to attending cooking classes or a free weekly meal, the coalition is a space where retired residents, young families and even Spanish-speaking newcomers can meaningfully spend their time, McKenna said.

Empowering the community through food

Amanda Moulton, the nonprofit’s community kitchen coordinator, said she is proud to work at the Hunger Coalition because of its commitment to equity and social justice. One of Moulton’s many job responsibilities includes organizing free lunch to community members every Thursday. 

Through this program, Moulton said she has met many Spanish-speaking newcomers who volunteer to cook the community meals, often bringing their home cuisine from Latin America to Blaine County. Those meals, Moulton said, are some of the coalition’s most popular.

The Hunger Coalition offers bilingual services since 24% of Blaine County’s population is Latino. (Mia Maldonado/Idaho Capital Sun)

According to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Latinos make up nearly 24% of Blaine County’s population a higher percentage than Ada County’s Latino population at 9.5 %. Foreigners also make up nearly 17% of the county’s population, contrary to about 6% in Ada County. 

Moulton said the coalition has gained a reputation for being a safe space for people to not only find healthy food, but also to navigate living in Blaine County.

For example, last week the coalition hosted a school registration workshop for parents and their children. The coalition is also located across the Alliance of Idaho, a bilingual advocacy organization that provides low-cost legal services to immigrants.

“We provide the food because the cost of living here is so high, but then we’re also connecting them to other services,” Moulton said in an interview.

Molton said the organization has worked to make its staff match its population – hiring many Spanish-speaking locals. Moulton said the organization does not hire people based on their educational background, but rather based on their lived experiences. 

The Hunger Coalition is located at 110 Honeysuckle St. in Bellevue, Idaho. To contact the coalition, call 208-788-0121 or email [email protected].

“​​Anyone who’s experienced food insecurity or being an immigrant, or just being a Spanish speaker in this community they all have really valuable skills to share. We don’t have an education requirement anymore just because we’ve realized that not everyone has access to that kind of education.”

Moulton said the coalition functions to create a space for Blaine County’s essential workers who play a vital role in maintaining the region’s ski resorts, restaurants and landscape.


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Mia Maldonado
Mia Maldonado

Mia Maldonado joined the Idaho Capital Sun after working as a breaking news reporter at the Idaho Statesman covering stories related to crime, education, growth and politics. She previously interned at the Idaho Capital Sun through the Voces Internship of Idaho, an equity-driven program for young Latinos to work in Idaho news. Born and raised in Coeur d'Alene, Mia moved to the Treasure Valley for college where she graduated from the College of Idaho with a bachelor's degree in Spanish and international political economy.