Residents of Southern Idaho Create a Community That Cares
Neighborly support can be seen throughout the Magic Valley.
The sign in the restaurant says: “Life is better in a small town.” And that certainly rings true in Bliss.
“We’re part of a great community and everyone looks out for one another,” says Leslie Jones, who, along with her husband, Bill, owns the Oxbow Diner in Bliss.
This sense of community shone through when the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a halt. In Bliss, for example, when truck drivers still traversed the country to bring people essentials, locals rallied together to support them, pooling money and donating it to the Oxbow Diner to provide meals. Others in the area handed out bags with snacks and toiletries.
This outpouring of support is not a rarity in Southern Idaho. Bob Harris, whose family is in its fifth generation of owning Burley Theatre and Century Cinema 5, was forced to shut down both theaters in mid-March, but to keep his employees working, he offered popcorn and other concessions for sale on the weekends. People came from miles around to support the local businesses, with cars lining up in droves.
At Young Automotive in Burley, a group of youth gathered school supplies and provided 150 local children with the materials they needed to start the school year. And at the Jerome Senior Center, when quarantine closures meant seniors couldn’t gather for meals, the center pivoted to a meals-on-wheels-style program to give homebound seniors the sustenance and social interaction they needed.
In addition to local businesses, the pandemic also caused area farmers’ challenges, but they, too, fought hard to move forward.
“Idaho is agriculture,” says Penne Main, president of the Mini-Cassia Chamber. “It’s the farmers, the ranchers and the dairy guys who get up early every single day and show up and continue to show up and they don’t give up. You see it a lot here – that drive, that willingness to keep moving forward to continue to grow this area. It says a lot about the kind of people who live here.”
When the supply chain was disrupted, Ryan Cranney of Cranney Farms in Oakley was left with a six-month supply of potatoes that should have been destined for restaurants and supermarkets. He put a post on Facebook, offering free spuds to anyone who wanted them. People came from food banks, soup kitchens and even other states to gather food for their friends and neighbors.
“We have generations of people who have never given up and have this collective point of view that we’re all in this together and that by being in it together, we prosper,” Main says.
Friendly and Diverse
Southern Idaho boasts a friendly community that is home to people of many different racial and cultural backgrounds, many of which came to the area from Mexico to fill agricultural jobs or participate in the College of Southern Idaho’s (CSI) Refugee Resettlement Program. The program has been in operation since the 1980s.
“We’re bringing people here who have been living in refugee camps for 10, 20 years,” explains Zeze Rwasama, director of the CSI Refugee Center. “We work on getting them economically self-sufficient, teaching them English, providing them with job-readiness classes and money management. Then, we partner them with a mentor from the community, someone who teaches them things like how to go to the grocery store. The program wouldn’t work without the community being welcoming.”
The program recently welcomed people from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. Rwasama says the refugees are outfitted with donated household items and placed in agriculture and retail jobs, where they work diligently and fill a void in the workforce. He also believes that refugees acclimate faster in a small town like Twin Falls rather than in a big city where people don’t tend to know their neighbors.
“In a small town like this, the same day someone new moves into the neighborhood, everyone comes to knock on the door to say hello,” he says. “They ask, ‘How are you?’ and they want to hear the person’s story.”
If you’d like to learn more about the Southern Idaho area, check out the latest edition of Livability: Southern Idaho.