It isn’t much to look at from the outside: an aging storefront sandwiched between an alley and a private home. But this place is a lifeline for some of the residents of Spirit Lake, Idaho. Many are working families struggling to make ends meet. Others are retirees with little savings, trying to stretch their social security checks. All of them depend on the weekly provisions they get from the Spirit Lake Food Bank.

According to Feeding America, 37 million people in the U.S. were food insecure in 2018. With millions more filing for unemployment amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, that number has spiked. In fact, Feeding America estimates that it could rise by as much as 17.1 million.

In Idaho, the numbers are far less dramatic. The state has less than 2 million residents and only a fraction of them live in the Panhandle area where Spirit Lake is located. Still, the food bank can distribute as much as 5,000 pounds of food some months. That’s especially impressive when you consider the fact that the pantry is only open for a few hours each week.

Becki Gaddum serves soup to clients at the Spirit Lake Food Bank
Becki serves food bank clients some homemade soup

Becki Gaddum has been volunteering at the Spirit Lake Food Bank since 1990. In that time she has helped forge a network of relationships to keep the shelves stocked. The USDA provides monthly bags of shelf stable pantry items, and fresh produce often comes from Second Harvest Food Bank in Spokane as well as local growers. Super 1 donates bread and lunch meat and other shelf items, the fire department takes in donations during the holiday, and the local schools also have food drives throughout the year.

“We’re really lucky with this community,” says Becki. “All of the churches, the Knights of Columbus, so many individuals — they all support the food bank.”

They also have a regular team of volunteers that rotate through each week, and a waiting list of people willing to step in when needed.

Of course, how the food is distributed has changed with the onset of the coronavirus. “We’re in such a small space and many of the folks that volunteer are older, so we knew we needed to do something different because of COVID-19,” says Becki.

The City of Spirit Lake stepped in with a suggestion. Twice a week hot meals are offered at the Community Center, funded in part by the Council on Aging. Since social distancing made a sit down meal impossible, the Community Center was now putting the meals in a to-go bag and handing them out at a drive through area. Why not supplement with grab bags from the food bank? Since the middle of March, they’ve been doing just that.

Fresh food at the Spirit Lake Food Bank

“Super 1 in Rathdrum has been really good to us,” says Becki. “They’ve been providing apples and potatoes, lettuce and oranges, fresh produce for people to supplement the shelf stable food.”

While she’s thankful that people have been able to get food through the community center, she’ll be happy to get back to the weekly distribution from the food bank. “I like knowing that I’m helping the clients we have, seeing them and visiting with them.”

If you or someone you know is food insecure, is a good place to locate one of their member food banks. If you live in the Idaho Panhandle, use the list below to find the food bank closest to you:

ABC Food Bank
(208) 683-3244

Bonners Ferry
Community Action Partnership
(208) 267-3663

Clark Fork
Clark Fork Food Bank
(208) 266-1213

Clark Fork SDA Church/Food Bank
(208) 266-0321

Coeur d’Alene
Community Action Partnership
(208) 770-3018

Lake City Community Church
(208)  676-0632

Coeur d’Alene Tribe
(208) 686-4041
(208) 686-0997

Community Action Partnership
(208) 783-4901

Old Town
West Bonner Food Bank
(208) 437-0143

Post Falls

Priest Lake
Priest Lake Food Bank and Thrift Shop
(208) 448-2367
(208) 448-2383

Priest River Food Bank
Bonner Community Food Center
(208) 448-4989

Rathdrum Food Bank
(208) 687-3696

Bonner Community Food Center
(208) 263-3663

Spirit Lake Food Bank
(208) 623-3107

St. Maries
Community Action Partnership
(208) 245-9090