Banking on Community Support

By Beacon Staff

As the holiday season approaches and temperatures continue to fall, many food banks in the Flathead Valley are seeing customer numbers spike and some supplies run thin.

While representatives at each food bank extolled the valley’s generosity and willingness to help neighbors in need, they noted shortages in specific items that, if donated, would help hundreds of local families have a happy Thanksgiving.

The food banks stressed that their doors are open, both to those willing to donate and those who may need some help coping with the pressures of a down economy. Here’s a breakdown of valley food banks’ needs, locations and contact information.

Flathead Food Bank – Kalispell

Flathead Food Bank executive director Lori Botkin says her organization is serving more families than she can remember.

Volunteer Cassi Cowan boxes and weighs food for a customer at the Flathead Food Bank in Kalispell’s Gateway Community Center.

“We are just plain busy,” Botkin said.

During the last week in October, the food bank served 549 families, going through about 37,000 pounds of food. That is an unprecedented number.

“Six years ago, that’s what we served in a month,” Botkin said. “I panicked for the first time.”

With Thanksgiving just days away, Botkin said the food bank needs turkeys, since she expects they will be providing the building blocks for about 1,200 families’ holiday meals.

Botkin has seen a significant rise in new customers, especially now that the summer construction and tourism season is over.

“The Flathead Valley as a whole is in the process of summer layoffs,” Botkin said. “We’ve seen a lot of that; their seasonal jobs are coming to an end.”

Still, business at the Flathead Food Bank is on a four-year upswing, Botkin said, and there are no signs that it will slow down. The local community is already stepping up to help their neighbors, Botkin said, but there is always room for more.

Donations, whether of food or money, can be made at the food bank’s new facility at the Gateway Community Center, 1203 U.S. Highway 2 West, Suite 2.

“I just want to thank everybody that is helping,” Botkin said. “The need is so high.”

The Flathead Food Bank is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday. Call 752-3663 for more information.

North Valley Food Bank – Whitefish

In Whitefish, June Munski-Feenan says the North Valley Food Bank is running short on fresh produce as the holidays approach.

“What we really need are fresh vegetables and some fruit,” she said, noting that people have been dropping off turkeys at an admirable rate.

Recent donations have also included wild game, which several adept volunteers cut up and wrapped, Munski-Feenan said. A rancher also gave an entire cow, bolstering the protein supply.

The food bank has been bustling, she said, “with quite a few new people,” and all donations – food, cash or check – are appreciated.

Janette Nostrum organizes dairy products in the cold of a large refrigerator at the Flathead Food Bank in Kalispell’s Gateway Community Center.

The local Town Pump has also offered to match donations made in November up to $5,000, Munski-Feenan said.

“We love the support people give us,” she said.

The North Valley Food Bank can be found at 311 East First Street, and can be reached by phone at 862-5863.

Columbia Falls Food Bank – Columbia Falls

In Columbia Falls, Jan Von Lindern said turkeys are always needed, but what the food bank is running short on is a bit sweeter.

“What we need is pancake syrup,” Von Lindern said. “We have a lot of pancake mix and not enough syrup.”

The food bank is prepping for its Nov. 19 Thanksgiving basket distribution, which had 127 families signed up last week with more expected. That’s already about 30 more than last year, she said.

Regular business days are Monday and Tuesday, which Von Lindern said have been getting busier as the economy continues to struggle in the valley.

“We’re getting new families every Monday and Tuesday all year long, which is unusual,” she said.

And while donations will always be needed, Von Lindern said Columbia Falls residents already have a great history of looking out for one another.

“The Columbia Falls community is a great community,” Von Lindern said. “If you need something you put the word out and the next week you’ve got it. It’s a great community to live in.”

Monetary donations can be sent to the Columbia Falls Food Bank at P.O Box 1081, Columbia Falls, while the physical address is 82 Railroad Street East. The food bank can be reached at 892-0241.

West Shore Food Bank – Lakeside

Leslie Knuth at the West Shore Food Bank said she’s seen about a 40 percent increase in customers, a number that is growing now that cold weather has arrived.

“We’re getting about seven new customers a week,” Knuth said. “It’s cold, they don’t have heat anyway, then they get laid off because of the cold weather.”

The food bank appreciates all gifts, Knuth said, but at this time of year, turkeys are especially welcome. Anyone donating fowl can mark it for Thanksgiving or Christmas, Knuth said, and can drop it off at the food bank or Blacktail Grocery or Rosauers.

Knuth is also stockpiling hams for Christmas and beyond. She noted that donations are usually up through New Year’s, and then they peter out as people get out of the holiday mode.

“These people are still going to be out of work in January, February and March,” Knuth said.

Any sort of donation is welcome, and can be sent to P.O. Box 192, Lakeside, 59922. To contact the food bank by phone, call 261-4560.

Bigfork Food Pantry – Bigfork

The Bigfork Food Pantry is an arm of the Flathead Food Bank, located at 7545 Highway 35, north of town. It is open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on every second and fourth Tuesday of the month, and can be reached at 837-2297.

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