Idaho Labor Program Helps Support Food Bank, Interfaith Sanctuary During COVID-19

Overwhelmed food banks, pantries and shelters across the state have found some help from the Idaho Department of Labor’s work experience program, and now more than 15 people across the state are working at various locations, learning job skills and helping people in need while earning a paycheck.

The idea was formulated when the Idaho Office of Emergency Management (OEM) contacted the Labor Department looking for solutions to replace Idaho National Guard members who had been helping food bank workers keep up with increased demand at pickup sites because of COVID-19.

The work experience program fit the bill. The program, one of several programs under the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, matches qualifying individuals, mostly young adults, with employers who need workers and are willing to give these individuals a place to learn valuable skills. The program provides the funding for all work experience jobs. Workers earn $11 an hour for a maximum of 520 hours.

The purpose of the program is to help these individuals develop skills like consistent attendance, punctuality, reliability while the employer provides skills training, mentoring and supervision, according to Keith Whiting, a Labor workforce consultant who coordinates matching workers with employers.

Boise’s Interfaith Sanctuary was the next organization in need of workers.

“We need lots of support,” said Jodi Peterson, executive director of the shelter. Volunteers and many crew members are following the state stay-home order to prevent the spread of coronavirus, leaving the shelter with a small crew that is providing more services than normal.

Currently, two full-time workers from the Department of Labor program are working at the shelter.

“They do everything we do,” Peterson said. That includes serving and sometimes cooking three meals a day, taking donations and cleaning – one of the most important tasks during the pandemic.

“They have just jumped right in,” Peterson said of the two workers in the program. “It can be intimidating coming into this environment, but these two seem to feel really comfortable.”

Cleaning is a prime task for these workers as well as those at the Idaho Food bank locations to halt the spread of the virus and for that, Peterson said she is grateful.

Kymberlie Westmoreland can attest to the abundance of cleaning. She is one of the work experience participants working at the shelter. The work is challenging both physically and mentally, Westmoreland said, though she feels fortunate to work with another program participant.

Kymberlie Westmoreland, one of Idaho Labor’s work experience participants, helps out in the storage shed at the Boise Interfaith Sanctuary. She pulled her mask down to pose for the photo from a safe distance.

“The program is very much appreciated. I cannot tell you how much it has meant for our family,” she said. For Westmoreland, this is an opportunity to display her work ethic and perhaps lead to a more permanent job.

The Idaho Food Bank says the program has been a good resource and a good experience for them.

“These folks have been instrumental in helping us maintain a rigorous cleaning regimen. We have always had very clean facilities and now with COVID-19 we are doing even more to ensure our employees, volunteers and partner agencies are safe,” said Janine Domico, Idaho Food Bank’s director of human resources.

In some locations, the team is working alongside volunteers to help label and repack food. Currently, there are workers in Lewiston, Pocatello and Boise.

In all cases, the work experience participants wear face masks and practice social distancing.

“Without this work we would be unable to serve those in our communities. They are also helping out with general labor work in our warehouses,” Domico said.


Interested in learning more about work experience programs? Send us an email and we’ll connect you with a career planner in your area.


– Jean Cullen
Project Coordinator, Idaho Department of Labor