Twelve years ago, the Idaho Foodbank launched its “Beef Counts” program, which works with local Idaho beef farmers, distributors, processors and more to provide Idahoans with a food not often seen in donation boxes — beef.
Food donation boxes regularly contain dry goods, prepackaged meals and canned food, but not always fresh food, and meat in particular is an item the Idaho Foodbank has struggled to offer to families in need. Roasts, beef and in general larger meals of this sort have been cited as something rarely seen donated to nonprofits like the Idaho Foodbank. Yet, for Beef Counts, over 20 beef partners from around the state have partnered with the Idaho Foodbank to offer donations from a booming industry.
In a press release from the Idaho Foodbank, Theresa Vawter, public relations and government affairs coordinator, said, “According to the Idaho Beef Council, there are 2.5 million head of cattle and calves in the state of Idaho — exceeding Idaho’s population of 1.8 million people. The Idaho Foodbank is pleased to partner with this important industry to bring food security to all Idahoans.”
The program is the first of its kind in the United States and now operates not just in Idaho, but in Washington too. Businesses, farmers and processors can donate cash or live animal donations to the cause.
“Animal donations can be made at processing centers where it can then be sold with the funds coming to the Beef Counts program,” said Morgan Wilson, chief development officer for Idaho Foodbank. “The Beef Counts program takes donated funds to purchase product. These beef products are then distributed by The Idaho Foodbank to our community partners that include food pantries, senior centers, feeding sites and shelters. In rural areas of Idaho where the need is great, but often there is no local food partner, The Idaho Foodbank distributes food through Mobile Pantries.”
Industry leaders, such as Agri Beef, Idaho Beef Council, Idaho Cattle Association and Idaho Cattlewomen Council, are strong supporters of the Beef Counts program. They support the initiative through monetary donations, as well as direct food donations and encourage employees and partners to volunteer for the foodbank.
Wilson said, “It takes many hands to ensure families and communities get the food support they need to create healthier futures.”
In a state with just under 9% of Idahoans facing food insecurity, the Idaho Foodbank has made its mission to help families combat hunger, but also to get nutrient-dense foods on Idahoans’ plates. After partnering with big beef providers, Wilson said collaborators have made “fast work” of getting enough food, enough person-power and the donations continue to grow.
When asked the question, “Why beef?” Wilson responded, “Protein is a key part of a balanced diet, and one of the most important factors is to include a variety of nutritious protein sources, beef included. Beef protein is an especially important protein source as it offers 10 essential nutrients, including iron, zinc and other B vitamins. Having a variety of proteins is important to a nutritious diet.”
Wilson commented on the foodbank and partners donating to their “neighbors” in Idaho who are facing hunger. The idea that with such a surplus all Idahoans can “enjoy beef” is certainly an encouraging and gap-bridging sentiment. And with Idaho being a leader in beef agriculture throughout America, the Idaho Foodbank has now addressed a need, reclaimed a space to be filled by a homegrown industry and has worked to fulfill that necessity. Although, as always, there’s more work to be done.