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Basic needs pantry for homeless students running low

The United Way of Treasure Valley is looking for easy, grab-and-go “backpack” food.

BOISE, Idaho — Two months into the school year, the United Way of Treasure Valley’s Basic Needs Pantry needs restocking.

“I cannot believe we have empty shelves,” volunteer Patricia Nilsson said. “They were just packed at the beginning of the school year.”

More than 60 schools use the pantry, which means supplies go fast. United Way spokesperson Brittany Rosenthal said meeting that demand is their top priority.

Idaho State Department of Education data shows more than 7,000 students in the state are homeless. Rosenthal said 4,000 of those students live in the Treasure Valley.

“Homelessness can look really, really different here,” Rosenthal said. “It might look like multiple families sleeping in an apartment or a house. It can look like sleeping in a car sleeping in a shelter, perhaps sleeping in a tent, but it doesn't just look like on the streets every day.”

Rosenthal said many of these students do not have access to basic necessities; this includes hygiene products, food and school supplies. Right now, the pantry needs more grab-and-go “backpack food.”

United Way’s shelves are stocked with various canned goods, which is not practical for students, Rosenthal said. Backpack food includes tuna pouches, beef jerky, a baggie of popcorn, crackers or granola bars.

Employees from both private and public schools pick supplies up daily, Rosenthal said. It is not just primary and secondary schools – post-secondary schools, like the College of Western Idaho, use the pantry as well.

“Sometimes, I think the way that those adults are connected to those kids in the schools, the kids don't even always have to necessarily ask - the needs are known,” Rosenthal said.

Community members can leave donations at United Way’s office on South Vista Avenue Rosenthal said monetary donations are also appreciated.

Nilsson said she hopes inventory increases soon.

“To think of kids going to bed hungry,” Nilsson said, “I just can’t abide it.”

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