Teen volunteers help battle food insecurity in their Idaho town

Challenges related to COVID-19 have impacted communities across Idaho, and the town of Kamiah is no exception. The small town’s economy was hit with business closures, layoffs, and a dramatic jump in the price of groceries.

In an area where most people know each other, it wasn’t a huge surprise to learn that one group was stepping up to help out: the town’s teenagers. These youth, known around Kamiah for performing community service projects, are now spending some of their free time preparing and distributing healthy meals to families in need each week.

“When people need help, you just have to help them out,” said Robert Whitney, a Kamiah High School senior. “It’s better to band together as a community, especially in such hard times.”

Robert and his fellow helpers are part of the Upriver Youth Leadership Council’s (UYLC) Youth Advisory Board (YAB), a group of students that plans substance-free activities for their peers. The students can also be seen around town raking yards, setting up for community events, and participating in other projects that serve their neighbors.

In response to COVID-19, UYLC received a grant to provide free community meals, and the YAB student volunteers have jumped in to help by gathering each week to prep, cook, and package all of the food.

“We have a system—an assembly line,” said Colton Sams, a Kamiah High School sophomore and the YAB treasurer. “Over the course of a week, we take turns gathering the ingredients, making the meals, and bagging them up.”

The students even pick the produce themselves from local “salad patches,” as they jokingly call neighbor’s gardens, and are learning to cook as they go along, making meals like baked spaghetti, goulash, and pulled pork sandwiches. Tyler Wiley, the UYLC Teen Center activities coordinator, guides the chefs as they use a smoker, chop, mix, and bake.

The free meals are being distributed every Friday for 16 weeks, ending in September.

Each of the students knows at least one local family that’s been hit by food insecurity—a factor that makes them particularly empathetic.

“I know that if I was in need, I’d appreciate help from other people,” Colton sympathized.

YAB community rep Mikal Brotnov agreed, adding that the group felt it was important to help provide families at least a little bit of nutrition as they get on their feet. “With the store prices skyrocketing, this is one thing we knew we could tackle together.”

Cooking is just one new skill the YAB members are acquiring these days. An even bigger one—learning to adapt to an uncertain year ahead—is now on their plate as they cope with the unknowns surrounding school, sports, and other activities.

Regardless of what happens in the coming months, the YAB teens will continue their efforts to support their fellow community members.


Keeping teens involved in meaningful activities can help them stay alcohol- and drug-free. Find out why. Also, get some ideas for hobbies your child may enjoy.