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Wayne Aucoin

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Last year, the Idaho Foodbank distributed five million pounds of food to more than 700,000 Idahoans. But even with all that food flying off the shelves, Idaho still ranks as the eighth hungriest state in the nation.

Wayne Aucoin, the inventory controller at the Idaho Foodbank in Boise, took a break from inventorying turkeys to speak with BW about hunger in Idaho and what it was like to be on the receiving end of the line.

Why do you think the hunger situation here is so bad?

I think we have a lot more rural areas than people realize. [Rural areas] don't have the Albertson's right around the corner. If they have a mom-and-pop store around, [the stores] charge much more than what a big chain would.

What do you do at the food bank?

I'm the inventory controller. Food comes in; I categorize it, log it in, put it in the computer, track it, cycle count it, whatever needs to be done to it untill it's gone. My main job is to cycle count, to make sure our product is correct in the system.

How much food comes in to the bank in a typical day?

During the holiday season, we can get as much as 10,000 pounds a day. We have the GAP program, which goes out and rescues food from the stores. GAP is the Grocery Alliance Program. Albertsons and Fred Meyer's have their quality control identify product going out of date, or close to out of date, and if they can, they will freeze meat and cheese and stuff. We pick up their stuff and we bring it back here, and we offer it to the agencies. We have a full-time driver. All he does is pick up the Grocery Alliance product.

What's a gleaner?

Their main objective is to go out to the fields after harvests and pick up things like potatoes or apples or whatever may be the farmer offers to them. Usually, the farmers call us and say, "I have this product, but I have no way of getting it off the field." So we'll call these groups and say, "Hey look, we have this farmer in Parma that has potatoes. Would you go out and get them?" We'll even give them the bags. They'll take what they want and they'll donate the rest to us.

Have you ever been on the receiving end?

I have. It's hard. You're barely making minimum wage, trying to put kids through school. It wasn't feasible for my wife to work because the day care would have cost us more than [her salary]. But now that [the kids] are grown, and starting families of their own, we worked our way out of it.

How did that affect your kids?

It did, I'm sure. I tried not to allow things to affect them. If we had to go without something, [my wife and I] did it before we'd make them go without. At that time we smoked.

Do you feel like your job has instilled a strong ethic in them about feeding others?

I think they have more of a drive to try to better themselves because of it. They've seen what we had to go through and I don't think they really want to do that. They still volunteer. They do a lot with our church.

Is the food bank doing anything special for Thanksgiving this year?

We always do our Empty Bowls [11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Nov. 23] at the Tree Lighting Ceremony down at the Grove.

It's one of the more fun events I like doing with the food bank. Bowls come from all over the Treasure Valley. We're expecting about 1,800 bowls this year.

Are special things being donated like turkeys and meal packages?

We need lots of turkeys. We need about 16,000 turkeys this season. Right now, we may have 3,000. We've got a long way to go.

Do you think the hunger situation in Idaho is getting better or worse?

I think it's probably going to end up getting worse before it ever gets better because of the gas prices. People have to have gas to get to their jobs. It affects everything—whatever it takes to produce anything. People have got to have it, so I think food is always on the back burner when it comes to that.

What do you think would surprise people most about the food bank?

I think it would surprise people the most if they could just see the volume of food that would go to waste if we weren't here. It's just amazing the kind of food that's wasted here in the United States if it weren't for [organizations like] us.

Have you ever run into a shortage crisis?

Oh, yes. A couple years ago, we were almost bare out in the warehouse. You could see all the way across the warehouse through our racks.

How did you overcome that?

We started a purchase program. We'd buy truckloads of food. With donations, we could literally cut that price in half. We're still keeping up with the program. We bought a truckload of food about four months ago, and I bet you we're about out of it now.

Is there any kind of food you won't take?

We try not to take home-canned stuff because it doesn't [have a list of] ingredients, and we don't know what kind of condition it was canned in. It could be contaminated.

What might a typical truck going to a typical distribution center have on it?

Each area is kind of unique in getting local stuff. We get a lot of PowerBar, since the facility is right out there by Gowen Field. We do a lot of trading [with other states] since a lot of the other warehouses don't get [PowerBar]. If we get an abundance of [something], we'll say, "OK, we'll trade you this. What do you have?" That way, it gives everybody a little diversity of what they get.

If you had to pick three things that you would love to see donated in abundance, what would they be?

Cereal, meat and personal-care items: toothbrushes, deodorant, shampoo, stuff like that.

How many pounds of food are in the warehouse?

Right now, I think we are sitting at 1.8 million pounds.

Is it more during this time of the year?

It will be. Everyone wants to give during the holiday season. But hunger has no season. It's wonderful to give during the holiday season, but people are just as hungry during the summer as they are now.