At the beginning of Winter Semester 2021, two BYU-Idaho students searched for a need in the community they could help resolve. Cristopher Tena-Vargas and Stefanie Birrer, two seniors studying social work, founded a service opportunity for students in the form of delivering food to homebound seniors impacted by the winter weather and COVID-19.
Wanting to find a way to alleviate a problem in the community, Birrer contacted city Councilwoman Tisha Flora to ask if there was any way she and fellow BYU-I students could help those in need. After being given the idea to assist in delivering food to the elderly, Birrer and Tena-Vargas then met with I-Serve coordinators at the end of January to propose the idea.
“We don’t work with I-Serve specifically, but they’re a program that wants to help and we are more than willing to let them help,” Tena-Vargas said.
Birrer and Tena-Vargas now serve as the Delivering Food to the Elderly program coordinators, with Birrer handling relations with BYU-I and Tena-Vargas taking responsibility for student volunteers through I-Serve.
Every third Tuesday of the month, BYU-I students can volunteer by picking up food boxes from one of the Rexburg Mobile Food Pantries and delivering them to the elderly at either the Brenchley Apartment Complex or the Carlow Senior Apartments.
“Our motto has been to give back to people who have already given so much in their lives,” Tena-Vargas said. “It is kind of the statement that Stefanie and I came up with and presented I-Serve. For us to just take a Tuesday off and drive for about 40 minutes from the warehouse to their home is really nothing compared to what they’ve already done.”
Since the beginning of COVID-19, the Rexburg Mobile Food Pantry has opened its warehouses twice a month for any community member who might be in need of food for themselves, their families or for others. This service is available to all people regardless of social status or economic background.
“Madison County has the highest poverty rate in the state of Idaho by more than double,” said Jessica Goudy, the program coordinator for the Rexburg Mobile Food Pantry. “We are also one of the only counties that doesn’t have a brick and mortar pantry; it’s just open all the time. It’s a community-run program and runs off of donated food through non-profit programs.”
The Rexburg Mobile Food Pantry was established in 2012, beginning with a partnership between the Family Crisis Center and the Madison School District. The purpose of the pantry was to get more food into Madison County, with the Idaho Food Bank being the source of distributed food.
“You don’t have to qualify; if you show up we assume that you need help,” Goudy said. “We don’t decide who gets it and who doesn’t. We serve between 600-850 families every distribution, and we give anywhere between 40-60 pounds of food to each household.”
Goudy appreciates the volunteers that deliver food for the elderly. She has heard many success stories from the service opportunity and has seen the impact it made in the lives of others. Goudy recognizes the efforts of the student organizers and the volunteers.
Both Goudy and the student program coordinators have high hopes for the continuation of this service project. As the pantry’s program coordinator, Goudy invites all students and members of the community to participate. Tena-Vargas just finished writing a five-year plan for I-Serve so that the program can know what the project will cost and how it will move forward.
“Service reminds you of all the things that you are grateful for and all that you have,” Goudy said. “It gives you a sense of purpose and connection and it gives you a sense of family.”
BYU-I students can browse and search through BYU-I’s I-Serve website to sign up for future Delivering Food to the Elderly service opportunities. There are many people in the community who could truly benefit from the help and care students can offer.