AGENCY SPOTLIGHT: COEUR D’ALENE TRIBE FOOD BANK

Author: Ben Prez

As you head south from Coeur d’Alene Idaho on Highway 95, the tourist scenes and casino lights quickly give way to gently rolling grades of the Palouse country. Cell phone service is spotty, but country music comes in clear on the radio, as the two-lane highway winds and twists deeper south towards Worley Idaho (pop. 250), and the Coeur d’ Alene Reservation. Just outside of town sits long-time Second Harvest partner, the Coeur d’Alene Tribal Food Bank. And while it’s off the beaten path, special things are happening down here.

AC Sanchez (Left) and Becky Walrod (Right)

The food bank offers a free shopping experience to those in search of nutritional assistance on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Tuesday of the month from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. but drop-ins are welcome during non-distribution hours.  The need is high with between 180 and 200 households served per distribution. Food Bank director AC Sanchez keeps things simple: if you need food, you’re getting food and it’s going to be quality, have variety, and few questions will be asked.

AC Sanchez (Right) and Leo Charlie (Left)

Three monthly deliveries from Second Harvest along with a few other food sources help keep the pantry stocked.  Sanchez mentioned that they just received a huge supply of packaged wild game meat from the Tribal Fish and Wildlife Department.

“We have a reputation for good food and low barriers. People come from Palouse, Oakesdale, CDA, all over. We aren’t going to turn them away,” Sanchez says.

For the past 14 years, Sanchez has served as director of the food bank along with Leo Charlie and Becky Walrod (community garden coordinator). They’ve put together an incredibly valuable resource for tribal members and other regional residents in need of food.

AC’s path here has come full circle. He says that many years ago he came to the pantry in need of food, commodities, and fresh produce. He and his family received immense help as they raised their young children. A few years later, Sanchez was offered the job and the rest is history.

AC Sanchez standing outside the community garden.

The free food program is just one piece. The food bank also features a 1-acre community garden that grows an average of 4,000 pounds of produce a year that is handed out to clients.  Volunteer gardeners take shifts tending the crops and learning cultivation skills. In the fall, a large pumpkin patch ripens, and droves of area school children come to the food bank to learn about gardening, food security, nutrition, and even archery from time to time. At the end they get to choose a pumpkin to take home. All of this is free of charge.

Sanchez says the pantry has big plans and wants to continue looking for ways to help the community.  They aim to turn the marshland below the pantry into fields of camas root, a traditional tribal food staple, and feature this as an option for clients. For now, Sanchez and company continue to stick with their compassionate approach to keeping people fed.

“We’re the place to turn for people in need and we welcome all”.

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