By Doug Bauer
Cari Miller knows better than to take the food on her family’s plates for granted.
The former store manager of The Home Depot in Lewiston, Miller became a stay-at-home mom for three years before taking over as north central branch manager of The Idaho Foodbank last year.
“When I hear about people being helped, it’s very gratifying,” she said. “In the nonprofit sector we don’t often see the benefit of the work, although we know there is a need. So when I run into that or hear stories of the work that we do actually helping people, it’s very satisfying to me.”
When she’s not working, Miller enjoys running, reading, taking her kids on adventures and being involved in Lewiston Rotary.
Doug Bauer: Were you aware of the need that exists in our region before you started working at The Idaho Foodbank?
Cari Miller: I figured there were food banks in town, but I didn’t know very much about food banking or even understand there was a need in Lewiston or the surrounding area. I think the thing that’s really been the most surprising is that there are so many children here in Lewiston and the surrounding areas that are chronically hungry, and that it’s affecting their education. … And then we have a large senior population as well that struggles with hunger.
DB: Is it difficult to know there still are people out there whose food needs can’t always be met?
CM: It makes me sick to my stomach. I have three little kids, and just thinking of one of them going to bed hungry, or not being able to learn because they don’t have healthy food available to them, is a terrifying feeling to even think about, and I know there are a lot of moms and dads out there that that’s a reality for them. So, that part can be difficult, but we just drive on and try to get them everything that they need and everything we can provide for them. … I think it’s sad, but I completely understand there’s a lot of pride out there, and a lot of people don’t want to access resources that are available to them because they feel embarrassed about it. … I can’t say how I would feel in that situation, but it would be very difficult. I just wish we could do more, but I know we’re doing everything we can at this point.
DB: You say the favorite job you’ve ever had was in the Army. How did that prepare you for the work you’ve done since you left the military?
CM: The military taught me leadership at a very young age. I was 21 when I went into the Army and was given a platoon to basically be in charge of. So I was taught by leaders that had been in the military for a long time, and you find mentors and people that will take you under their wing. But what I learned a lot from the Army was … an incredible work ethic. I thought I already had a good work ethic, and I did, but I just learned how to do a lot without a ton of resources. I learned how to create pride within a unit and accomplish goals together, and having that opportunity to serve the country was very rewarding for me. … You take people from all different backgrounds and bring them together and try to accomplish something. … Home Depot was a lot different type of leadership. Those people could quit at any time, whereas in the Army they couldn’t quit at any time, so I had to change my style a little bit.
DB: What compels you to get up and go to work every day?
CM: I want to be a good role model for my kids, and I look at how I can do that personally and professionally, and I think … them seeing me do this is going to help them understand more about what’s important in life, that things don’t always come easy, that when mom goes to work she’s helping people, and that when mom goes to work the time is spent to help kids and try to facilitate resources in their community. … So I just see this job as a chance to be a good role model for my kids, and it gives me a chance to lead a group of people, and it gives me a chance to use the skills I learned in the military and in business. … The Idaho Foodbank is very fiscally responsible. It’s a lean, mean machine, and our goal is to end hunger in Idaho, and we do that in the most streamlined way possible so we’re not creating more expenses.
Doug Bauer is managing editor of the Lewiston Tribune. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2269.
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