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At 91, Isabell Yale is still the heart of this food bank and has no intention of stopping

Filling Garden City cupboards

For 22 years, Isabell Yale has helped feed the hungry.
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For 22 years, Isabell Yale has helped feed the hungry.

Isabell Yale walks through the rooms of the St. Mary’s Catholic Church Food Bank on State Street in Boise with the ease of someone familiar with the routine of the busy volunteers packing boxes, checking meats and serving hungry clients.

She pauses in a room where disposable diapers are stacked on shelves. “We are very blessed,” she says of the diapers. “Because you can’t get them on food stamps.”

900 Number of families served by St. Mary’s food bank each month

For nearly a quarter century, Yale has given her time to helping feed people from the food bank that she once directed with the help of a friend Lois Ditter. Today, she greets clients as they come in.

At age 91, she has no intention of stopping.

“It gets me up. It gets me going and I love it,” Yale said with a husky laugh.

You feel particularly good because you are able to help.

Isabell Yale

St. Mary’s food bank began in the mid 1940s in the basement of the church rectory.

Yale, who retired as a nurse in California and moved to be near her kids in Boise, had been in town just a couple of days when she met a nun at St. Mary’s and told her she wanted to help. She found herself on a committee for assisting people.

“When they mentioned the food bank, I said ‘sounds good,’” Yale said.

She took it over 22 years ago, with the help of Ditter.

A LIFE BUILT AROUND NURTURING

Yale was raised in California and decided to become a nurse after reading teen books about the fictitious nurse Sue Baron and the real nurse Florence Nightingale.

We get a lot of Muslims now and we respect them and make sure they don’t get any pork products.

Isabell Yale, St. Mary’s food bank volunteer

She joined the Navy as a corpsman, the equivalent of a licensed practical nurse, just as World War II ended. She was stationed in New Orleans helping treat POWs afflicted with tuberculosis and infections they’d gotten in Japanese camps.

“I loved the nursing that we did there,” she said.

It was tough seeing servicemen, some with diseased swollen legs. She recalled a time during her nursing training when a woman came to the hospital with her swollen leg wrapped in newspapers. As the paper was cut away, it revealed a leg infested with maggots “and the smell that goes with it,” she said. “It sort of cured me of ever being grossed out by anything I saw.”

She also spent 20 year as a nurse in the movie business. Nurses or EMTs are required on sets in case of injuries or other health problems, she said.

“I did all of ‘Hill Street Blues,’” she said. “I did all of ‘MASH.’”

She retired at age 68, 10 years sooner than she should have, she reckons, because her energy level was so high.

‘TELLS US WHAT TO DO’

At the food bank, she’s made small concessions to her age. She doesn’t throw around boxes of produce the way she used to and works just two days a week checking in new clients.

But when the produce truck rolls in, “she pretty much tells us what to do and we do it,” said Stacy McDonough, her daughter-in-law and today’s food bank director.

Clients at the food bank are greeted with a warm cup of coffee and doughnuts. Yale wants the place to be inviting, not institutional.

And as people register for food, they can’t help but tell their stories.

“You hear that their husband is in jail and they are very distressed about it,”Yale said. “They just hurt.”

Some who come are working, but don’t earn enough to feed their families.

“Don’t get me started on the minimum wage,” she said, as volunteers around her nodded and gave a knowing laugh.

MAKING PEOPLE FEEL SPECIAL

Yale has a special understanding for the clients seeking food.

“Isabell brings an incredible respect for our clients ... and the ability to make people feel special, that having them as our clients is our privilege,” said the Rev. Thomas Faucher, retired St. Mary’s pastor who worked with Yale for several years.

Yale offers more than warmth and a box of groceries. “She is this place,” McDonough said. “The clients come and, if she is not here, they say, ‘Where is your mom?’”

When older people come to the food bank, “they can look at this person who is 91,” McDonough said. They might say: “I want to be like that. I’ve got to keep moving. What a wonderful example.”

St Mary’s Food Bank

Address: 3890 W. State St. Boise

Phone: 345-2734

Hours of operation: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday

Service area: St. Mary’s Food Bank provides help primarily for people in the Garden City and State Street area.

What clients receive: Clients may come monthly for boxes of food that can last up to 10 days. Homeless people may come weekly and take out what they can carry, mostly nonperishable items.

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