Rice, Chili, and Tradition
Updated: Dec 29, 2020
Half a bowl of rice topped with chili was always seen as a family “tradition” for Carlyn Blake. It wasn’t until she was older that she realized the tactic behind this common family meal. “I was number eleven out of twelve kids in my family…my parents would do little things to make the money stretch. My dad would make a big batch of chili, and an equally big batch of rice, I never understood that they were doing this for financial reasons.” This simple method has stuck with Carlyn for years, and is still how she serves chili to this day.
Fast forward to today, and Carlyn is now the Development Manager at The Idaho Foodbank where she is able to assist and implement new strategies to help so many food insecure Idahoans. “All I wanted to do was make a significant difference in my community" was Carlyn Blake's response when asked what her why was behind joining the nonprofit world 10 years ago.
After moving to Idaho from Wyoming in 1997, she found herself working for a local bank with a large void in her heart. Sure, she had the stability and security of a traditional job, but she still felt this pull towards wanting to help others. With 19 years experience in finance and economics, she always wondered what else was out there for her.
It wasn’t until the economy crashed in 2010, and she lost her position at the bank, that she was able to take the leap of faith in becoming the Executive Director of a nonprofit called Usful Glassworks. Utilizing her Masters in Instructional and Performance Technology, which focuses on improving human performance, Carlyn was able to tie in both her educational background and passion. This unique non-profit focused on glass recycling and jobs training, which helped an array of individuals that were struggling to find a job. Most members of her non-profit were just coming out of incarceration, refugees, or faced other obstacles holding them back from securing a job. Usful Glassworks offered training programs in production and manufacturing of glass cutting. “It was a ton of fun, and I learned about being in a non-profit, but unfortunately it wasn’t financially sustainable.” Carlyn was still able to help keep the doors open for 7 years and helped shape many lives during this time.
After she closed, Carlyn re-evaluated what she wanted to do next. “That was the second time I had an opportunity in my life…I sat down and said basic needs, the three “H’s”, hunger, housing, and health care.” She started looking for jobs in those three primal areas, and applied for a position at The Idaho Foodbank. Founded in 1984, The Idaho Foodbank is the largest free food distributor in the state of Idaho, and Carlyn has already helped make significant strides in just her first three years there.
“I absolutely love it, I love being with an organization that has history…it’s been run by great leaders, and our current CEO is phenomenal leader, mentor, and visionary.”
- Carlyn Blake, Development Manager for The Idaho Foodbank
The Idaho Foodbank has a vision to solve hunger in Idaho, and Carlyn knows that this is an attainable goal. She pointed out that the main problem they run into isn’t a lack of food, but more so the distribution of the food to those that need it most. This non-profit has also pulled to light Carlyn's foundation and true passion. "In my personal life, my favorite thing to do in the whole world, and it's a bit of a joke in my house, is to feed people. I just want to make sure that anyone who knows me isn't hungry, and that they're getting nutrient rich and high quality food."
The Idaho Foodbank offers several incredible programs within their organization that zone in on food insecure kids, senior citizens, and families across the whole state. Their Backpack Program currently has 174 participating schools in 63 districts statewide. Approximately 2,100 backpacks, filled with nutritious and kid-friendly food, are distributed to students each week. The School Pantry Program, which was born from the Backpack Program, gives parents and guardians the opportunity to pick up food for their families from various schools. The School Pantry has 38 participating schools in 14 counties, and has served over 3,700 households during the 2019 to 2020 school year. The Mobile Pantry, which supplies large boxes of food to rural communities at least once a month, has also been a very successful program for The Idaho Foodbank. You can see where the nearest food bank and feeding site is based on your location here: https://idahofoodbank.org/getfood/.
Now, these efforts have seen great strides throughout the years, but with it being 2020 and “unprecedented times” being the common theme, you may wonder, how COVID-19 has affected The Idaho Foodbank. In a normal year, Idaho Foodbank will distribute nearly 22 million pounds of food, but this year they have increased their distribution of food by 46% to meet the need for food caused by the pandemic. The organization is now on track to distribute 29 million pounds of food.
This year, Feeding America projected that that one in seven adults, and one in five children in Idaho could be food insecure due to the pandemic. Along with food donations, The Idaho Foodbank is always looking for volunteers and cash donations. Because of the pandemic, there are more options than ever to donate and contribute virtually as well. See links below on how you can help today!
The Idaho Foodbank has done an incredible job at maintaining their priorities of health, hunger, nutrition, and increasing capacity over the years. When we met with Carlyn and heard her why, we couldn’t help but think about how many other people there may be out there that feel stuck in the mundane 9-5. If you find yourself in this position and are wanting to seek out new opportunities to give back in your own community, then we have you covered. Below are several links to different ways that you can contribute to The Idaho Foodbank’s mission, and help those in need!
Money donations: https://idahofoodbank.org/give/money/
Food donations: https://idahofoodbank.org/give/food/
Community Promotions: https://idahofoodbank.org/give/dine-shop-live/
Current and Upcoming Food Drives: https://idahofoodbank.org/current-and-upcoming-food-drives/
Hope for the Holidays: https://idahofoodbank.org/hope-for-the-holidays/
If you or someone you know is food insecure, please see links below:
Food Assistance Guide: https://idahofoodbank.org/food-assistance-guide/
Food Assistance Locator: https://idahofoodbank.org/getfood/
Additional Resources: https://idahofoodbank.org/locations/additional-resources/
· The Idaho Foodbank will normally spend $200,000 annually on food, but this year they have spent over $2 million on food due to the pandemic.
· Before they were working with a 30,000 square foot building, but have recently moved into a 100,000 square foot building that has tripled their fridge and freezer space, and has allowed them to keep up with the increasing demand for food distribution. Currently they are utilizing 60,000 square feet, but have the ability to expand to meet their future needs.
· “The Idaho Foodbank serves approximately 197,400 people monthly through more than 465 partners in 44 counties. These include rescue missions, church pantries, emergency shelters, and community kitchens.”