On Oct. 15, 1984, Gov. John Evans signed the documents that allowed The Idaho Foodbank Surplus Warehouse to operate at 801 Reserve Street — a 3,600-square-foot Armory building with a dirt floor. Wanda Michelson, director of the Idaho Hunger Action Coalition, the Foodbank’s parent organization, orchestrated the separation of the two organizations. Jill Chappell, a VISTA volunteer, took over as interim Foodbank director. Debbie Mallis, also a VISTA volunteer, was the first full-time staffer. She remembers, “scrounging for office equipment in our first office upstairs in the Old Armory.”
The first big food drive was at a Kenny Rogers concert at the BSU Pavilion. The staff wasn’t ready for the quantity of food donated. “We had to figure out where to put a large quantity of red potatoes,” Debbie said, “then how to bag and distribute them – a huge task considering the few people involved.”
In 1985, the tiny Foodbank staff and a host of hard-working volunteers distributed 255,365 pounds. Doug McKinnon was hired as the first operation manager.
“Our office furniture consisted of two chairs, a desk, one lamp, one file cabinet, a calculator and two large pieces of plastic. We placed the plastic on the floor to sort donated bread,” he said. Lewiston distribution, which began that year, was sponsored by Valley Hunger Action Council, a chapter of IHAC. The Foodbank used the Nez Perce County Fairgrounds as an unloading point. Fern Wilman, a recipient, volunteered to unload the trucks. It was Foodbank’s first mobile pantry.