For both volunteers and recipients
By Kelsey Dudley
Boise State University
Four years ago, a group of dedicated volunteers created an incredible organization with the goal to help the citizens of Emmett whose next meal wasn’t guaranteed. Janet Monti, along with the other members of the community, saw the problem and took it on themselves to begin the Emmett Valley Friendship Coalition (EVFC), housed at Emmett Methodist Church.
At first, there was only $25 in the bank, and a dream to conquer the hunger issue in Emmett. Six weeks after they opened the kitchen, the pantry was stocked with food from The Idaho Foodbank. Janet explained the EVFC philosophy this way: “We know we can’t assist people with an issue or create change when they are hungry.”
The amount of community involvement that is seen at this food pantry is nothing less of incredible.
In a town of 6,287 people, there are 500-600 active volunteers who put their strengths and talents together to keep this program not only running, but succeeding beautifully. Friendship is more than just part of the organization’s name. The EVFC provides education and friendship as well as food. Volunteers offer their knowledge on how to become more independent and educated tips on how to save money. There are “Did you realize…” flyers on the tables. The information includes various tips from turning down the thermostat at home, to the importance of making a grocery list before shopping in order to save money and reduce impulse buys.
Janet’s determination to make a difference in the world is seen by her work done at the local newspaper in town, Messenger Index, along with her work at the EVFC. When at the newspaper, she’s busy informing the people of Gem County on behind-the-scene news. At the EVFC, she contributes more than just her time; she gives her heart as well.
“It’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever done in my life,” she says.
Each person who attends the panty is not just a face lost in the crowd to Janet, but a close friend.
She then offers an enormous amount of credit to the entire community.
There was the time The Fish and Game Department had donated elk, she says. And when a bull broke its back and had to be put down, the owner donated the meat to the EVFC where it fed many of the visitors for weeks.
Another example is County Commissioner Lan Smith. When I arrived to the church he was in the kitchen cooking. When I left he was cleaning up.
EVFC is a Tuesday program, but the amount of work put into it is continuous. On Mondays, a group of volunteers head to Franz Bakery to pick up several hundred pounds of bread that get distributed to the Tuesday kitchen service and the pantry. The work is then picked back up early Tuesday morning.
Volunteers wake with the sun to leave Emmett at 7 a.m. and make the 50-minute drive to The Idaho Foodbank in Boise. The group picks up the majority of the food used in the kitchen and the pantry, and they then take several hours to sort and organize once they get back. But the work doesn’t end there.
After the volunteers pick up the last-minute items such as salad and milk from the local Albertsons as part of the Foodbank’s Grocery Alliance Program, the cooks are then set to prepare the meal for the night. The cooks take the utmost pride when they prepare the meals, and they create delectable dishes they would be proud to serve to their own families. No one is turned away, and those who need it can have thirds and fourths. While the visitors pass through the line, the volunteers notice both the new faces and the repeat visitors. Smiles are exchanged and the volunteers reminisce on the progress and transformation the regular visitors have gone through since when they first started coming to now.
The transformation made is extraordinary in every sense of the word. When talking to Janet she told me during an individual’s first visit to the EVFC they often sit alone. Sadly, on top of fear and hunger, many people experience a low sense of self-worth and damaged pride when they have to come for a free meal. Very quickly, though, friendship takes the place of embarrassment. Before the meal is over the table that seated one is full, and new friendships have been made.
At the EVFC friendships evolve unexpectedly when a volunteer who may be fortunate enough to not fear when her next meal will be, sits next to a guest who is one check away from losing her house. Often they discover they have more in common than they would have ever guessed.
Friendships created here also break down barriers; barriers between the volunteers and the visitors and also board members. Every board member of EVFC is from a different church, which results in a diverse group of individuals who put their best ideas together to make the pantry better each week. Bill Monti, Janet’s husband, explains the two greatest parts about the pantry; one, diversity is greatly welcomed and two, “There are no requirements for someone to come and get a good meal; all they have to be is hungry.”
Unfortunately, like nonprofits everywhere, the needs of the EVFC are endless. Canned vegetables, dairy, and protein foods are always needed for dinners and the pantry alike. Fortunately, what the EVFC does have is quality food donated from the Foodbank and local supporters from Boise and Emmett, along with incredible volunteers.
At every meal the Coalition provides, there are visitors who touch the hearts of the volunteers, just as the volunteers touch the hearts of the visitors. When the volunteers were asked, why they go through all this hard work every week, their explanations are given through stories: the silent act of a teenager waiting to get food because he wants to make sure his younger siblings get enough to eat. A mother whose face is fearful from the uncertainty about when she and her child will eat next. And the father who is too embarrassed to say thanks but who stares at the floor and quickly remarks on how good the food was.
I left the EVFC holding a lasting impression of its legacy and what it means for a community to come together for the greater good. Witnessing the community involvement first hand has shown me the best of humankind and what a simple meal and smile can do for a person.