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Fighting Hunger with Beef

March 20, 2024

Volunteering to package beef chubs at the Idaho Foodbank warehouse in Lewiston on a recent Monday afternoon was a family affair for University of Idaho Extension educators.

Audra Cochran, a UI Extension educator based in Clearwater County led the effort to bring the Beef Counts program to northern Idaho, along with Jessie Van Buren, who specializes in 4-H youth development and is based in Latah County and Meranda Small, a UI Extension educator who’s programming focuses on beef cattle production, based in Idaho County. Beef Counts is a partnership involving the Idaho Cattle Association, Idaho CattleWomen Council, Idaho Beef Council and Agri Beef Co. that fills Idaho Foodbank freezers with donated beef.

To recruit more helping hands, Van Buren sent out a group text message to several family members involved in ranching. Van Buren’s mother, aunt and cousins showed up, and the team of educators, students and producers relabeled more than 2,000 pounds of ground beef 1-pound chubs in just a couple of hours.

All three Extension educators operate their own beef herds and are well connected within the cattle industry. They hope the recent experience will spark a lasting partnership between U of I’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, the Idaho Foodbank and Idaho beef producers.

“I am fortunate that I have a lot of family connections in the area who are beef producers,” Van Buren said. “In the future, more of my family would also be willing to participate.”

Van Buren, Cochran and Small serve on a U of I team leading a three-year, $479,000 grant funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to provide training for beginning ranchers throughout the Northwest. They anticipate involving some of the beginning ranchers they’re serving in future volunteer efforts with the Idaho Foodbank. They’ll also seek to recruit more 4-H participants to help the Idaho Foodbank accomplish its mission of feeding Idaho’s hungry residents.

“The Idaho Foodbank staff shared with us that most of their volunteer base is senior citizens who are retired,” Small said. “Occasionally, however, a good number of 4-H clubs come in on an annual basis for their community service time and help repackage products and get them ready for dispersal. That was really encouraging for us to hear that we’ve got youth taking an interest in this, so the Idaho Foodbank knows they have a next volunteer base as the current one ages out.”

The Extension educators also got to tour the Lewiston facility, which is a central warehouse that distributes food to surrounding Idaho Foodbank locations. After seeing a kiosk with recipe cards, which gives recipients ideas about how to prepare the commodities they receive, the Extension educators asked the Idaho Beef Council to provide additional recipe cards featuring beef.

The Extension educators may also collaborate with the Idaho Foodbank on an event in July celebrating Idaho Beef Month and National Grilling Month, where grilled beef would be served. Protein sources are in high demand by the Idaho Foodbank and comprise just 16% of food donations. Foodbank staff estimated that the large Beef Counts donation would last just one week.

“We want our 4-Hers to be involved and really want to build community within our stakeholder constituency to further the work the Idaho Foodbank is doing,” Cochran said.

Published in Catching Up with CALS

Volunteers labeling and packaging up beef chubs for the Idaho Food Bank in Lewiston.

About the University of Idaho

The University of Idaho, home of the Vandals, is Idaho’s land-grant, national research university. From its residential campus in Moscow, U of I serves the state of Idaho through educational centers in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls, nine research and Extension centers, plus Extension offices in 42 counties. Home to nearly 11,000 students statewide, U of I is a leader in student-centered learning and excels at interdisciplinary research, service to businesses and communities, and in advancing diversity, citizenship and global outreach. U of I competes in the Big Sky and Western Athletic conferences. Learn more at


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