On a cold Thursday morning in November, more than 100 people waited in line outside Martha and Mary’s Food Pantry, located in a humble house on a quiet street in Jerome.
The line for food outside of Martha and Mary’s Food Pantry stretched along the sidewalk and around the corner.
People bundled in coats and hats warmed their hands by a fire. Pallets of produce, fresh milk and frozen meat were unloaded from an Idaho Foodbank truck and stacked nearby. At 11 a.m. sharp, the line started moving, and volunteers — like Matthew Brody — started helping people fill their carts with food.
“It’s just a house from outside, but it’s so much more than that,” Brody said. “It’s just amazing how much is served out of this house. And the smiles that are served out of this house, as they go with a shopping cart of food.”
Said Jeff Schroeder, assistant coordinator at the pantry: “Primarily here at Martha and Mary’s Food Pantry, we serve the working poor. Food is the common denominator for all of us.”
Nearly 10% of Idahoans are food insecure, according to The Idaho Foodbank. This is defined as a lack of access, at times, to enough food to meet their needs. Food insecurity can be impacted by many social and economic factors, like poverty, unemployment or other impacts to a household’s access to food. St. Luke’s recognizes these concerns and aims to be a partner in addressing them.
“St. Luke’s has been a committed to addressing food and nutrition security across our communities for many years,” said Kyli Gough, community health manager at St. Luke’s Magic Valley. “One of the ways we do this is through partnerships with local food pantries who serve our most in-need community members.”
Martha and Mary’s Food Pantry took shape around 15 years ago to meet the needs of a growing population with a growing need for food assistance.
“With the longevity that we’ve had here, we’ve built a lot of trust,” Schroeder said. “We try to deal with love, respect and mercy for everybody that comes in here.”
The recent crowd was gathered for Idaho Foodbank’s quarterly mobile pantry ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, but a more modest line can be seen outside Martha and Mary’s Food Pantry twice a week, every week.
“We served more than 165 families just from our mobile,” said Schroeder. “Our average during the month is more than 600 families that we serve out of the pantry. It’s 60-80 on Monday (and Friday).”
It takes a big team to feed that many people, and the team at the food pantry is all-volunteer. Some speak English, others are fluent in Spanish and range from teenagers to senior citizens. Many of the volunteers, like Brody, used to receive food from Martha and Mary’s Food Pantry and have returned to help others.
“I stood in those lines. I stood in the lines outside and waited for my turn,” said Brody. “And now I’m on the other side helping … It’s surreal.”
Martha and Mary’s Food Pantry regularly receives food from the USDA, South Central Community Action and through The Idaho Foodbank. They are also thankful for the support they get from other organizations and individuals.
“We are blessed that we’re going into the giving season right now where there’s a lot of food drives, a lot of community support; that helps us a lot,” Schroeder said. “We hold that food and distribute it in the latter part of the year when there’s not so many food drives possible.”
Creating a place to hold the food is one area where St. Luke’s has stepped in to help, with funding from a St. Luke’s Community Health Improvement Fund grant.
“That’s one of the bigger problems that small pantries have is storage,” Schroeder said. “St. Luke’s provided us with the funds to turn a small box truck into a freezer unit so we can store 6-8 pallets of frozen food. We’ve been able to expand what we have here.”
St. Luke’s also assisted with adding cold storage in the garage, allowing items like corn to be distributed over a few weeks instead of a single day.
Other areas St. Luke’s has supported at the pantry include food preservation and cooking classes to help patrons utilize and preserve the food for longer periods of time.
“We know the needs are great in this community,” Gough said. “We are so grateful for caring, compassionate individuals, like those at Martha and Mary’s, who create a safe place to nourish the bellies and hearts of those they serve.”
While Martha and Mary’s Food Pantry has grown over the past 15 years, Schroeder dreams of growing beyond the pantry and seeing a community resource center take shape.
“There’s so many other areas that the people I see need assistance with,” he said. “The need for us to love our neighbor as ourselves is out there all the time.”
Kelly Franson is the public relations manager at St. Luke's Magic Valley.