Feeding The Hungry

Posted: Sunday, September 23, 2012 7:48 pm

By LYNNETTE HINTZE/Daily Inter Lake

There are boxes and bags of food stacked on every inch of counter space, so the need for a bigger facility was not lost on the crowd attending last week’s open house at the North Valley Food Bank in Whitefish.

The independent food bank’s board of directors and fundraising organizers staged the event to prove their point: The food bank has outgrown the small, 80-year-old house where volunteers have handed out food to the hungry for 25 years.

Last fall the food bank paid cash for a lot at Baker Commons near The Wave fitness center, using money it had tucked away through the years. Now an effort is under way to raise $1.5 million, which includes an estimated $700,000 for the new building. The rest would be set up in an endowment fund to help the organization in perpetuity.

OUT OF ROOM Patrick Cote/Daily Inter Lake
Volunteer Elder Jairl organizes boxes of food Thursday afternoon at the North Valley Food Bank in Whitefish. Operations at the food bank have outgrown the current facility and plans are being made to build a new building.

An architectural rendering for the new facility, circulated in a promotional brochure sent out several months ago, initially raised some eyebrows for seeming a little too fancy to some. But there’s a good reason for the attractive design that includes exterior rock work, fundraising co-chairman Jim Kenyon said.

The city’s architectural review standards require certain design features that make buildings compatible with other buildings in town.

“This is a metal building that falls within the city’s architectural design standards,” Kenyon said. “We’re not building the Taj Mahal.”

Food Bank Director June Munski-Feenan, the firecracker in her 80s who has tirelessly run the organization since the beginning, pointed out that the rock work is being donated.

“If it were up to me we could get by with a Quonset hut, but the city won’t let us,” she said.

Munski-Feenan’s involvement with feeding the hungry predates the existing food bank building by several years. In the late 1970s, with no storage space for contributions, she stacked more than 100 loaves of bread under her Christmas tree to feed the hungry over the holidays, and a snow bank in her backyard became a makeshift cooler for jugs of milk.

Munski-Feenan is famous in Whitefish for her networking ability and finding innovative ways to get things done. North Valley Food Bank is the only food bank in the state that processes wild game. At last Thursday’s open house, she noted someone had brought in a bear for processing.

The new 4,748-square-foot distribution center, designed by architect Ross Anderson, will include several new and upgraded features, such as an enlarged meat processing center, commercial meat grinder, covered outdoor waiting area, more freezer and cooler capacity and storage for buying food by the pallet rather than by the pound.

A private office will be available at the new center, allowing families and individuals a measure of confidentiality as they seek assistance.

Phyllis Garlitz, secretary-treasurer of the food bank, said she has seen a growing need for help firsthand.

“What’s been so moving for me is we’re seeing folks who have never had to ask for help,” Garlitz said.

The existing food bank doesn’t have room in the alley to accommodate large trucks, so volunteers have to pick up any large shipments at an outlying site and haul them to the food bank.

Ample parking is another bonus of the new site. The current food bank has virtually no off-street parking, and clients have to stand in line outside through all kinds of weather to wait for their weekly allotments of food.

A self-help component will be part of the new facility, in that cooking and canning classes will be offered, Kenyon said.

The endowment fund aims to create sustainability for the future. Eventually, the growing organization will need a paid staff person, he said.

About 343,000 pounds of food are distributed annually, serving up to 150 households a week. Home deliveries are made to elderly residents. About 70 percent of the food goes directly to those living in Whitefish. The rest is handed out to low-income residents in the greater North Valley area.

The North Valley Food Bank’s corps of volunteers will continue to be the backbone of the organization as they eventually move to a bigger facility.

“These people work their butts off to provide basic, basic needs,” said Carol Atkinson, a local philanthropist who serves on the advisory committee with her husband, Richard, and fellow longtime fundraiser John Kramer.

“They’re conservative, they work hard and they want things to get done. Be an advocate for this incredible organization,” she told the crowd.

Atkinson encouraged donations of any size — “$5, $10; it doesn’t have to be $10,000. Of course we’d take $10,000 if you have it.”

Kenyon, president and chief executive officer of Whitefish Credit Union, and Lin Akey, president and CEO of Whitefish Glacier Bank, are sharing the job of fundraising chairman. Both financial institutions have pledged $25,000 apiece to the food bank project.

To make a tax-deductible gift or pledge to the project, send donations to North Valley Food Bank, 311 First St. E., Whitefish, MT 59937 or call 862-5863. More information is available online at www.northvalleyfoodbank.org; donations also may be made online.

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by email at lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.