On Wednesday, April 8, in an hour and a half, the Teton Valley Food Pantry gave out food to 40 households. On a typical Wednesday before the coronavirus pandemic, the nonprofit would have served six or seven families in the same time window.
“We’re seeing so many people without jobs, or with reduced hours—it cuts across the board. People have uncertain futures right now,” said Deb Adams, the Teton Valley Food Pantry board chair. Adams has managed the changes at the pantry in the last month, including additional distribution days and a shift to curbside pick-up.
Sue Heffron, who was hired as the new pantry administrator in mid-March, started on-boarding just as the nonprofit was morphing in the face of a new reality.
“We’re just evolving every week,” she said. “It’s a moving target, and the community has been so willing to move with it.”
Former long time pantry coordinator Sharon Froberg retired in February and when Heffron saw the job listing, it spoke to her. Her position as an outreach coordinator with Central Wyoming College had been eliminated and she had a skill set uniquely suited to the food pantry: extensive experience training volunteers, managing an organization, placing orders, and working with food systems as a 4-H volunteer and farmer. (She and her husband Andy own Purely By Chance Farm, a bird operation in Alta.)
“I really feel like I’ve been led to do something like this,” Heffron said. “I’m learning all the moving parts and it’s exciting to be able to fulfill our mission statement of not letting anyone go hungry, through the generosity of our community.”
The food pantry is adjusting to more stringent CDC sanitation guidelines, a greater need for volunteers, and fortunately more donations flowing in. With the increase in financial support, Heffron can now place orders through US Foods, including more fresh produce, meat, eggs, and dairy, rather than only shelf-stable monthly purchases from the Idaho Food Bank.
In the first week of April, Heffron placed two orders with US Food and took one emergency distribution from the state food bank. The food pantry is also managing the distribution of food rescue items picked up from local businesses by Community Resource Center volunteers. For the time being, the pantry is requesting cash donations rather than food drop-offs, to protect volunteers and families from contamination. To donate visit tvfoodpantry.com.
According to the Idaho Department of Labor, as of last Thursday nearly 78,000 Idaho residents had filed for unemployment benefits since mid-March. The valley nonprofits that provide resources to people in crisis have already seen a large increase in demand for food, financial aid, and other support. Clients picking up food at the pantry need only provide their name, phone number, town of residence, and number of people in their household.
“The need is definitely there, and I feel so fortunate that our community gives enough money that we can buy food in bulk,” Heffron said.
Adams agreed. “The community has been amazingly generous in supporting us to do exactly what we need to do,” she said.
Heffron focuses her time on organizing food bags, training and overseeing volunteers, and placing orders. Volunteers take strict sanitary precautions, put shipments in a three-day quarantine before distribution, wear clean clothes and masks, respect social distancing, and are required to stay home if they’re feeling at all sick. That’s why Heffron wants more volunteers, in order to maintain a database of people in case of sickness. Call (208) 354-1658 to learn more about volunteer opportunities.
“If people feel safe from contamination, they’ll come volunteer,” Heffron said. “People have been wonderful, they’re so respectful and hardworking. My heart is bursting with gratitude for all the volunteers who have really stepped up.”
Life on the farm continues even as Heffron dedicates much of her time to the pantry. Purely By Chance has a new round of baby turkeys and laying hens and the first batch of broilers just settled in.
“We’re pretty excited,” Heffron said. “With the coronavirus, more people will be looking at the source of their food. At the farm we have control over every step, and when people know their farmer, they know we’re maintaining protocol.”
Food distributions occur every week at the Trailhead Building north of Seoul Restaurant across from the fairgrounds in Driggs, on Mondays from noon to 2 p.m., Wednesdays from 6 to 7:30 p.m., and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. To set up an emergency pick-up, call the pantry at (208) 354-1658.