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Idaho Hunger “Hero” Finalist for National Award

August 9, 2011

BOISE, Idaho - An Idahoan passionate about "helping people help themselves" is receiving national attention this week. Idaho Hunger Relief Task Force director Kathy Gardner has been named one of five finalists for the AARP Foundation's "Hunger Hero Award." If she wins, it will mean a $15,000 donation for her organization.

While the contest is designed to recognize people age 50-plus working on hunger issues, Gardner is quick to say it's not just about her, but about the people she works with.

The Somali Bantu African Food Project is one example. The group was given three acres of land to plant indigenous foods, and Gardner says that's where the magic began to happen.

"The Somali Bantu started planting there, and from that they were able to feed their families, and then they had extras. They were able to go to the farmers' market."

Gardner says the Somali Bantu also use some of the proceeds to buy staples they can't grow, such as green bananas. Community elders coordinate some of the distribution, with more than 300,000 pounds of food going to families so far.

Gardner shares her favorite feature of the Somali Bantu African Food Project.

"The proceeds go into their nonprofit for their community. And so, when someone bumps into a hard time, then the community taps into their own nonprofit and helps their own community."

Gardner says Idaho has one of the highest food-hardship rates in the nation, which puts people of all ages into situations where they have to skip meals, or choose between groceries and medical prescriptions. Her other projects include involving lawmakers, senior centers, farmers and schools to tackle food insecurity, and working to remove barriers to food stamp use.

The finalist with the most online votes at AARP.org will win. Voting is underway at
www.aarp.org and continues through September 24. Votes can be cast once per day.

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - ID