Veterans Food Pantry Pursues New Housing Project

By Beacon Staff

Allen and Linda Erickson continue to dream big when it comes to helping the Flathead Valley’s homeless veteran population.

The couple started the Northwest Montana Veterans Stand Down and Food Pantry in their backyard, which progressed to the pantry’s current location in a 11,098 square-foot building on U.S. Highway 2 in Evergreen in 2010. Now the Ericksons have their eyes on a bigger prize: a 50-unit housing facility for veterans.

It’s a natural progression for the organization, Allen Erickson said last week.

“I’ve been thinking about it for years,” he said. “We were helping people two days a year, and now we’re helping them all the time. There’s too many guys and gals with kids and without kids out in the boondocks who should have a place they can afford to live in.”

At the current food pantry, homeless veterans can shower and launder their clothes, get food from the pantry and find support in a community that understands what they’ve been through, Erickson said.

Being able to house homeless veterans would be a big boost for this segment of the population, he said.

“I’ve talked to a lot of my homeless veterans and they prefer to be around veterans for the simple reason that they’ve been there and they’ve done that, and they understand where the sadness and the happiness come from,” Erickson said.

To help make this dream a reality, the Northwest Montana Veterans Stand Down and Food Pantry is holding a raffle, with the first prize a choice between 1.6 acres of land west of Kalispell or $20,000.

Second prize is a $3,500 bronze sculpture by Ace Powell, third prize is a painting by Mark Ogle, and fourth prize is a Marc Stringfellow print.

Tickets are $100, and only 2,000 will be sold.

“It’s good enough odds that I even bought a ticket,” Erickson said. “And I’m known for not winning anything.”

The organization bought the land in order to raffle it off, he said, and the prize money will come from the ticket sales. The winner will be announced at the Armed Forces Day Banquet on May 17 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Kalispell.

Tickets for the banquet are $40, and the evening will include a social hour at 5:30 p.m., followed by live music and dancing, a guest speaker and a silent auction.

The new facility would include more than 40 units for permanent housing, along with six or seven transitional housing units, Erickson said. There would be a community kitchen, though the permanent housing units would have their own kitchens and bathrooms.

Erickson said the project, which is still in its nascent stages, looks like it will cost around $4 million for everything he wants included, and the food pantry is close to acquiring the land in Evergreen he thinks would be perfect for the facility.

Erickson, who was in the U.S. Navy from 1957 to 1963, believes that by providing permanency in the lives of these homeless veterans, they would be able to access other services, such as mental health care, with greater ease and success.

“We’re going to do everything we can to build people up and help them,” he said.

For raffle tickets and tickets to the May 17 banquet, visit www.veteransfoodpantry.org or call 756-7304. Tickets can also be purchased at the Veterans Food Pantry in Evergreen.