School Districts, Food Banks Adjust to Ensure Access to Food

Food banks switching to outside distributions among other changes; schools serving meals to students at designated locations

By Myers Reece
Rankin Elementary School in Kalispell. Beacon File Photo

School districts and food banks are making adjustments in order to ensure that students and customers are able to continue accessing food while adhering to social-distancing protocol.

Following Gov. Steve Bullock’s March 15 order directing all K-12 public schools in Montana to close for two weeks, school districts are working to offer instruction remotely and continue serving meals to students. The meal programs won’t be available during spring break.

Some district websites provide the locations and times for where and when meals will be served, including Columbia Falls and Whitefish, which offers a “free-for-all” program in which anyone under 18 can receive one lunch and one breakfast per day. Families can check their respective districts’ websites and social media, but if the information isn’t posted, they can contact the district’s administrative offices.

Kalispell Public Schools is offering drive-through services for its breakfast and lunch programs to abide by social-distancing guidelines. All kids under 18 eat free. The meals are available this week through Friday at the following locations:

  • Central Kitchen, 233 1st Ave. E., 11 a.m.-1 p.m. – North Side of the Building
  • Edgerton, 1400 Whitefish Stage Road, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. – Main Entrance
  • Elrod, 412 Third Avenue West, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. – South Side of Building (5th Street)
  • Hedges, 827 4th Avenue East, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. – Main Entrance
  • Peterson, 1119 Second Street West, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. – Student Drop Off Area
  • Rankin, 2155 Airport Road, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. – Main Entrance
  • Russell, 227 West Nevada Street, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. – East Kitchen Entrance

Meanwhile, Flathead Food Bank announced that, effective March 18, its Kalispell pantry is closed to customers as it shifts to distributing pre-packaged bags curbside outside of the food bank.

“Please stay in your vehicles as we are doing this for public safety,” the food bank stated. “The line will begin at the Glenwood Drive entrance of the mall and wrap around the corner to the front office. Watch for signs about where the line begins and ends and do not cut in line.”

In order to protect seniors, the food bank is holding separate pick-up times to limit their interaction and ask that customers follow the time schedule below:

  • -Tuesday and Thursday
  • -60 years and over: 9 a.m.-12 p.m.
  • -Under 60 years: 1 p.m.-4 p.m.

Customers are asked to bring identification and can visit once per week regardless of age.

The food bank’s mobile pantry that travels to Martin City the first and third Wednesday of the month and to Kila and Marion the second and fourth Wednesday of the month will continue, but starting next Wednesday will transition to the bag model as well.

“Due to the volume of calls we will not be regularly picking up the phones so please keep an eye on our Facebook page for any changes,” the food bank stated. “Remember we are an emergency food bank and need to help all of our neighbors and are not here to help people stock pile food.”

North Valley Food Bank’s distribution schedule will remain the same, including distribution on Wednesdays from 3-6 p.m. and Thursdays from noon to 3 p.m. Distributions will be held outside and are designed to “ensure that no person-to-person contact occurs.”

“We are designing our operations with a 6-8 foot distance between all people at all times,” the food bank stated. “In addition, our facility and distribution areas will be sanitized each hour and volunteers will be provided gloves. We are taking considerable precautions to protect staff, volunteers, and customers.”

North Valley Food Bank is asking any volunteer over the age of 60 to stay home, which reduces its weekly volunteer force by 70%.

“We are seeking young community members to step in at this time,” the food bank stated.

To inquire about volunteering, visit to fill out an online application.

North Valley Food Bank is asking customers who suspect they might be sick to call and the pantry will make arrangements for outside food pickup or food delivery.

“This is a rapidly changing situation,” the food bank said. “Our staff and board are working hard to address issues that COVID19 is raising in our community. We want our customers to know that we have enough food for everyone and we will work hard to make sure that remains true. We appreciate all of the support pouring in at this time.

To support local food banks —financially, donating food or volunteering — visit their websites or Facebook pages to find more information.

All of the Beacon’s continually updated coronavirus coverage can be found here.

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