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NAMPA — Mari Ramos was born and raised in north Nampa. Some of her family members still live in the area, and the health of the neighborhood is important to her.

North Nampa is what is known as a food desert, Ramos said, or an area where people have limited access to healthy and affordable food.

"Basically people are getting their food from Family Dollar or gas stations," she said.

The Traveling Table, a food pantry truck, distributes food twice a month to help fill the void. It launched nearly two years ago, backed by volunteers with Nampa’s Healthy Impact Coalition, including Ramos, and students from the Treasure Valley Leadership Academy.

Today, as COVID-19 cases spike in Idaho and Canyon County, the need for the Traveling Table is greater than ever. 

Ramos, the Family Community Resource Center coordinator for the Nampa School District, said the north Nampa community is majority Latino, a population seeing disproportionately high rates of COVID-19 infection and economic challenges stemming from the pandemic.

"Most likely in the Hispanic community, if they don’t work, they don’t get paid," Ramos said. "When the main caregiver is out of work it makes it difficult for everyone else. Also in the Hispanic community there is a high percentage of people who will not ask for help, who will not go to a traditional food line."

That is why the Traveling Table is beneficial, Ramos said, because the volunteers do not ask for photo identification and do not ask questions. They just provide food. 

The food pantry recently upped its visits to the neighborhood to twice a month because of the increase of people in need of food due to the pandemic. The pantry will stop at two Nampa locations Wednesday — Vida Nueva Church of the Nazarene and the Nampa Housing Authority — to give out food for Thanksgiving.

Other organizations are changing how they distribute food this year amid rising cases of COVID-19. 

Rather than host its traditional Thanksgiving banquets, Boise Rescue Mission Ministries over the past week held two drive-thru food box giveaways in Nampa and Boise. 

"It was amazing to see what we were able to accomplish with the help of the entire community," Rev. Bill Roscoe, Rescue Mission president and CEO, said in a statement. "Thanks to all the donations from generous individuals and local businesses, we had the opportunity to once again serve people in need at this extraordinarily difficult time."

St. Vincent de Paul is continuing its longstanding Thanksgiving Food Box program this year, but with a different model. Instead of having families purchase food to put in a box for another family, the organization spent $60,000 on groceries from Albertsons to fill the boxes, which were  distributed this week at the Expo Idaho Small Animal Barn Arena.

Roughly 2,000 families signed up to receive a box.

"When you look at the economic situation you see how many people, who have never sought food and relief before, are asking for it this year," said Ralph May, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul. "The virus has built a food insecurity that is a bit daunting."

Many organizations and volunteers helped with the food boxes this year, May said, whether by donating or working the food line at Expo Idaho. 

"That makes me feel so proud of our community," May said. "We have a very giving community in the Treasure Valley; it is a very blessed place to have so many people who are willing to give."

Rachel Spacek is the Latino Affairs and Canyon County reporter for the Idaho Press. You can reach her at rspacek@idahopress.com. Follow her on twitter @RachelSpacek.

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