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Idaho Foodbank plans to distribute 17,000 backpack meals this year

Thousands of kids in southeastern Idaho are fed during the week on the free or reduced-price meals their schools offer. But what happens on the weekends, when they don’t have that access to those meals?

The Idaho Foodbank has the answer.

“What you’re going to see is, we’ve got a couple lunches, dinners, and breakfast, as long as a couple of snacks, some fruit, and a couple thinks of milk and some juice,” Jonna Boote, development coordinator for the eastern branch of the Foodbank, said.

The Foodbank’s backpack program has been working to keep kids who struggle with food insecurity fed when they’re off-campus.

“I don’t know about you, but I struggle a lot if I’m hungry,” Boote said. “It’s hard to concentrate, it’s hard to focus, it’s hard to be able to do the things you need to do. So, we’re definitely here for these children and to make a big impact on their lives.”

Most of the food the Idaho Foodbank handles is donated, but Boote explained that they purchase all the food for the backpacks to ensure the kids are getting the nutrition they need. This means whole grains, proteins, fruits, vegetables and even dairy.

This year, the group plans to distribute over 17,000 backpacks to the 16 counties of southeastern Idaho. And all of this is done with about eight full-time staff members.

“Because we have such a small staff, that’s why we can not do what we do without our volunteers,” Boote explained, “there’s just no way we could do this without them.”

On Tuesday, a volunteer base of Centennial Rotarians made their rounds and packed box after box. Board member, Stephen Weeg has been taking part in events of the sort for more than a decade and says he and the Rotarians are always looking for ways to give back to the community.

“We come down here three or four times a year and we’ll do whatever they need to have done,” Weeg said. “Tonight, it’s backpacks. Other times, it’s just stuffing cereal. But we’ll do whatever they need to have done.”

Boote said it would be an impossible task if it weren’t for the volunteers. And even though they are hard at work, it’s a time they thoroughly enjoy.

“Part of it is to have some fun working together, kidding each other, doing a lot of good work and helping a lot of people,” Weeg said, “and that’s what we’re about.”

The backpack builds run throughout the school year and Boote says it’s the most popular volunteer event the Foodbank has.

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