Food Bank Plans New Building

Posted: Wednesday, May 9, 2012 10:16 am

By MATT BALDWIN Whitefish Pilot

North Valley Food Bank has finally outgrown the little white house on First Street where the organization opened their doors 25 years ago. Without enough space for the 343,000 pounds of food that moves through the current distribution center each year, the food bank has plans to build a new, bigger home at Baker Commons on Flathead Avenue near The Wave.

“They’ve outgrown where they are now,” said Tony Harrah, the assistant vice president at Glacier Bank who is helping lead the fundraising effort for the new building. “They’re just out of space.”

The proposed distribution center, designed by Ross Anderson, will be 4,748 square feet with a number of added benefits, including a full kitchen, meat processing center with a commercial meat grinder, and extra freezer and cooler capacity. There will also be a covered waiting area and a loading dock.

Their current building is about 3,000 square feet and has been remodeled four different times.

“Our new facility will be larger, with more parking and safer access for our client families,” said food bank director June Munski-Feenan.

A private office is planned for the new building, which will provide a confidential atmosphere for families who come to the food bank for the first time.

The food bank lends a hand up to more than 7,000 families a year. More than 70 percent of donations go directly to families in Whitefish. The organization relies 100 percent on unpaid volunteers, with Munski-Feenan donating her time as director, as she has for 30 years.

The food bank paid cash for their lot at Baker Commons last September using funds they saved up over the years. They hope to fund construction of the new facility without a loan, as well.

“The goal is to have it paid for and not carry any debt,” Harrah said.

In their project overview, the food bank “pledges to be frugal in selecting materials and finishes and to use local labor whenever possible, while building a facility that the Whitefish community can be proud of.”

Their goal is to raise $1.5 million. While the building is estimated to cost $650,000, the food bank board wants to set up an endowment to help fund the organization into the future. Interest from the endowment will help address needs as they happen, such as repairs or purchasing new coolers or other operational costs.

Whitefish City Council stepped forward to help lower construction costs when they voted at their April 16 meeting to use about $10,000 of tax increment finance funds to rebate the food bank’s impact fees.

“This is a group that has taken care of people who are in real need,” councilor Phil Mitchell said. “They are sincere in what they do. This is a real need in our community since we do have people who fall between the cracks.”

There is no firm timeline as to when construction will begin.

To make donations, visit the North Valley Food Bank at 311 East First St. in Whitefish. The food bank is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation and donations are tax deductible.