News & Features

Group Seeks to Clear Kalispell School Lunch Debt

Gap Fillers Flathead, a new nonprofit, also wants to provide free menstruation products for local girls

Those of us who have reached adulthood have the distance to view our teenaged years with rose-colored glasses, so we may forget that puberty can be one of the most overwhelming times of our development.

Body parts are shifting and changing, hormones kick in, and suddenly the simplicities of childhood begin falling away. Going through puberty is challenging for everybody as it is, and now a group of women in the Flathead want to take away some of the shame associated with those important years.

Gap Fillers Flathead, a new nonprofit, seeks to address the issues that public and private funding overlook in an attempt to preserve the dignity, health, and privacy of kids throughout the valley.

The group’s initial goal is to wipe clean the school lunch debt within Kalispell’s School District 5, totaling about $16,000, as well as supply menstruation products for free in the girls bathrooms at Flathead High School. Overall, they hope to raise $76,000 to cover future project costs.

“We identified gaps where the public sector can’t fill the need and the private sector doesn’t have a mechanism,” said Tammi Fisher, a lawyer, former Kalispell mayor and one of the nonprofit’s founders. “We want to do it in Flathead County, all over the Flathead Valley at all of the high schools, and hopefully branch out to every other school district in the state.”

Fisher said the idea came to her after she heard a news item about girls not having products to help with their periods at schools. And if they did, the supplies were kept at the front desk or the nurse’s office, necessitating a conversation with multiple people to obtain them.

Immediately, Fisher flashed back to her own experiences going through puberty and how awkward and embarrassing it all felt and decided to do something.

“I thought, ‘Oh my god, if I had to go to the office and ask for products it never would have happened.’ I would’ve felt too embarrassed to ask,” she said. “I think you should be able to maintain your dignity in whatever form that takes and not have to make a request for something that isn’t your fault.”

She got in touch with a group of friends about it, and they now comprise the nonprofit’s board: Jeanne Parker, a former detective commander for the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office and expert in child endangerment and abuse; Michele Paine, principal at Flathead High School; Sandy Fullerton, a longtime active community member; Mickey Lapp, an active community member to work on public relations; and Sarah Stahlberg, to handle the finances.

The group also realized that putting up menstruation-product dispensers in the bathrooms helps the girls who might not have access to these products at home due to financial constraints, Fisher said.

“I just don’t want there to be shame going through puberty,” Fisher said. “Girls already go through so much.”
There’s a one-time cost of $10,000 for the dispensers and then $20,000 annually for the products.

Gap Fillers Flathead also wants to tackle school lunch debt for much the same reason. The schools accrue debt from the lunches children eat that parents either don’t or can’t pay for. The brunt of this often falls on the child, Fisher said, who might end up feeling humiliated by having to eat a different type of lunch from their counterparts because of the debt.

“I don’t think a kid should have to worry about that,” Fisher said.

Currently, the school has about $16,000 in debt that has built up over several years. The group would like to knock that out by the start of the school year, Fisher said, and let everyone start clean.

“There are plenty of people in Flathead County who care about kids and certainly would be willing to get rid of that debt,” she said.

The group hopes to eventually place the menstrual-product dispensers to all of the high schools and fundraising to replace important life-saving items the schools need, such as AEDs ($25,000) and EpiPens ($5,000).

The group has a website and a Facebook page with instructions on how to support the program, whether that’s through dollars or buying items on the group’s Amazon wish list.

For more information on Gap Fillers Flathead, visit www.gapfillersflathead.org.

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