PRESTON, ID – Hundreds of people in cars line up at the Preston Community Food Pantry at the back side of the Archery Building located at 580 east Oneida once a week to get commodities to help them through during rough times.
The food pantry is generally well stocked with food and can handle most of the people that are there looking for help, but this year they don’t have the local produce they usually have this time of year.
“We take care of about 150 families on a weekly basis,” said Steve Aust, the Executive Director of the Preston pantry. “That 150 families equals about 500 individuals.”
He is worried the early frost they had recently in Franklin County took out all the fresh garden produce they usually get from residents.
“I’m not sure any of the local gardens survived the frost and I don’t know what we will give our people for fruit and vegetables,” he said. “We usually have a lot local produce to give out.”
Last week they had a five-gallon bucket of local cherry tomatoes and zucchini for people that came for food.
“We are not particular. We’ve had people bring in all kinds of produce to us,” he said. “There are a lot of people afraid of the virus. We make sure everything is clean and do our best to have people have masks and use gloves.”
Aust said they do get some produce from Farmers to Families Food Box Program where the USDA buys goods from Idaho farmers and gives it to struggling families as part of its Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), he said.
“They bring over boxes with fresh produce one week and commodities like cheese and eggs the next,” he said.
The Farmers to Families Food Box Program not only helps the struggling families it also helps Idaho farmers who’ve been hit hard by the impacts of the pandemic. The USDA buys hundreds of millions of dollars-worth of fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, and dairy products to be given away for free without eligibility requirements or documentation.
“COVID-19 has changed the operating procedures here at the pantry,” Aust said. “Volunteers from the community can no longer help in the pantry.”
And the pantry can’t use other people’s boxes they can use boxes from Stokes Market Place the local grocery store and the Idaho Food Bank.
“People are supposed to stay in their cars, and we have Kay Laird a volunteer go out and find out what they need,” Aust said. “Then we have four big, strong, young Mormon Missionaries come over and take the orders to the cars and load them.”
The missionaries come once a week to help distribute food. Besides the missionaries, there are a few retired folks that volunteer at the pantry.
“Randy Sharp is one of our volunteers does an incredible job of bagging produce,” Aust said. “He is one of our great volunteers.”
So far, they have not had any reports of anyone being affected by the pandemic from the pantry or its workers.