National WIC Association Visits Bonner County

By: Nanci Jenkins, Panhandle Health District CPHMC Grant Manager

Quinney Harris, Grant Project Manager with the National WIC Association, arrived in Bonner County on Tuesday, June 28th to conduct a site visit and learn more about Bonner County, where a Community Partnerships for Healthy Mothers and Children (CPHMC) grant is being implemented.

The visit began with dinner at Trinity at City Beach in Sandpoint, ID. Sandpoint is the largest city in Bonner County with a population of approximately 7,500. The local grant manager, Nanci Jenkins, MS, RDN, LD, invited coalition physicians, Dr. Zachary Halversen and Dr. Ronald Jenkins to participate in the dinner meeting. Dr. Halversen shared his enthusiasm for the community garden projects that the coalition has begun working on. He is particularly excited by the concept that the coalition can help establish a school based garden program to enhance the nutritional value of the summer foods program that is already in place. The idea is that the students will participate in the growing and harvesting of the produce that they will then consume. Dr. Jenkins has taken the lead on the “Fresh and Healthy Foods” project. As Dr. Jenkins describes the program it will allow all Bonner County residents an opportunity to try WIC approved foods at a reduced price and in so doing expose more families to foods they might not otherwise know that they enjoy. The goal is to shift all grocery store shoppers towards buying more nutritious and less calorically dense foods which will contribute to a decreased risk of chronic disease in Bonner County shoppers.

Day #2 of the visit was spent exploring the county from beautiful Lake Pend Oreille. It is the largest lake in the state of Idaho at 43 miles long. It is also the deepest lake in the state at 1,158 feet making it the 5th deepest in the nation. The surface area covers 85,960 acres with 111 miles of shoreline. All but the southern tip of the lake is in Bonner County. Experiencing a tour of this lake helped Mr. Harris appreciate how spread out Bonner County is and some of the challenges presented by the CPHMC grant requirement to reach 50% of the entire population with the project.

Dinner on day #2 was held at The Tango Café’ in the Community Center within the Columbia Bank building in the center of the city of Sandpoint. It was a unique opportunity for Quinney to dine with some of the low-income families in the county who are being served by the CPHMC grant. Quinney was invited to participate in a dinner arranged by the volunteers of an organization called Jacey’s Race. Jacey’s Race is a non-profit event put on entirely by non-paid volunteers. It is a 5K running race and a 1K fun run/walk followed by family festivities that include face painting, clowns, bouncy slide, dunk tank, chili cook off, snow cones, cake walk, EXPO vendors and a silent auction. All proceeds benefit Bonner County families with children diagnosed with cancer or other severe illness. Additionally the pediatric unit at the local hospital and another local non-profit that serves the areas children, Community Cancer Services, receive funds from the event. The beneficiary dinner is arranged so that the new beneficiary families can meet the previous beneficiary families and have some familiar faces and people to talk to on race day. Team leader, Amy Sutliff (WIC client/advocate) participated in the dinner.  Mr. Harris had the opportunity to hear directly from many of the family’s about the challenges their child’s illness presents and about the resources available and lacking in the county.

Thursday morning June 30 was the official site visit day. Quinney Harris met Nanci Jenkins at the new Panhandle Health Building across the street from Travers Park in Sandpoint. A tour of the facility that included the WIC department, FACH (Family and Community Health), Environmental and Home Health commenced. Bonner Partners in Care Clinic (BPICC), a local volunteer clinic for those with no insurance, operates out of this facility as well. Key staff were introduced.

Next Quinney and Nanci drove out to the city of Ponderay where they met with the Lake Pend Oreille School District (LPOSD) #84 Superintendent, Shawn Woodward. Mr. Woodward is a coalition member and extremely supportive of any efforts to improve the health of all students in the school district. The meeting in Ponderay was followed by a meeting back in Sandpoint with a local grocer, Steve Furin. After having met with the coalition, Mr. Furin has been talking with his company’s board members and seeking approval to implement the “Fresh & Healthy Foods” program proposed by the CPHMC coalition.

Lunch back in Sandpoint was next at a local restaurant called, Spuds. Idaho is famous for their potatoes and appropriately named “Spuds” restaurant features Idaho grown potatoes. Quinney and Nanci were joined by team leader Anna Blackford. Anna participated in the New Orleans training and expressed her enthusiasm for the coalition efforts to date.

After lunch Quinney and Nanci headed straight to Bonner General Health, the local hospital serving all of Bonner County. There they met with the C.E.O., Sheryl Rickard, and the health promotion specialist, Misty Robinson. Quinney learned about the backpack for kids program. This started out as actual back packs but it was difficult to keep the packs clean or even to get them returned so they have changed to providing food in plastic bags. The local hospital facilitates collecting funds and purchasing food to fill the packs for every child in the LPOSD who qualifies for the free and reduced lunch program. Currently the food provided is chosen for its price and convenience without regard to nutritional value. Ms. Rickard was open to exploring coalition ideas as to how to get more nutritious food home to the children. The packs go home with the child on Friday afternoon with the intent that they will be consumed by the child over the weekend so the student returns Monday morning able to learn because they are less hungry.

The city of Dover was the next stop where Quinney got to see the older part of the city in contrast to the newly built “Dover Bay” community. Much of the concerns of the target population are hidden in Bonner County by some of the newer communities like those in Dover and Sandpoint. The windshield tour of the county was a drive south through Sagle, Westwood, Careywood & Cocolalla ending up just outside Bonners County in the main Panhandle Health District 1 office in Hayden, ID. There, Quinney and Nanci met with administrators, Lora Whalen, Jim Fenton, Christine Crummer, Don Duffy and Kimberly Young. The group discussed the goals of the grant and the details of the reporting requirements. Kimberly Young answered Quinney’s question as to why Bonner County was chosen as the place to implement this grant. She replied that it was because the needs assessment revealed a high rate of poverty, food insecurity and obesity in a county called a “Health Professional Shortage Area” (HPSA) by the US Health and Human Services Department.

After meeting with several community leaders who are members of the Bonner County Coalition, witnessing the challenges presented by the shear area of Bonner County and having the opportunity to speak with some members of the target population of low income Mother’s and Children the hope is that Quinney left his site visit feeling confident that the newly formed CPHMC project coalition, “Bonner County Coalition for Health”, is comprised of community members with connections, skills and resources to offer solutions to the many needs that were identified during his visit.