By Michael Howell –
Close to fifty people turned out on a windy Saturday morning on May 14, 2011 to witness the groundbreaking ceremony for the new building that will house Pantry Partners, the local food bank, the Clothes Closet, a free clothes outlet, and Acts of Kindness, a local charity that sponsors, you guessed it, acts of kindness.
Pantry Partners, the food bank, which distributes free food to people in need in the north valley, was founded in 1989. A few of its founding members were on hand for the groundbreaking including Kay Sylvester, Peg Whitesitt, and Lloyd Eickert. Other longtime supporters present at the ceremony included Jacquie Lyons, Vernon Sylvester, Iris Holland, Loraine McFadgen, and Catalina Gerner.
Kathy Belke, President of the Board for Pantry Partners, served as master of ceremonies introducing founding, former and present board members as well as past and present school board members and county commissioners who played a role in securing funding for the new building and a place to build it. She also thanked Julie Foster of Ravalli County Economic Development Authority who helped orchestrate the funding process.
The effort began a long time ago as the food bank struggled with a growing project cramped into a too small space from the beginning. The board began stashing some funds away for “the move.” But it wasn’t until a visit from Lauren Caldwell, local representative from Senator Max Baucus’ office in Missoula, that efforts to seek some public funding began to crystallize.
Caldwell saw the need, and Senator Baucus helped push, for some government funding. So did the office of Senator Jon Tester. In the end the project received a $450,000 Community Development Block Grant and a $200,000 Housing and Urban Development grant
Caldwell read a letter from Baucus in which he stated, “Even in the best of economic times, too many Americans go hungry and are without proper clothing. This certainly isn’t the best of economic times and communities around this country have seen an increase in the need for basic day-to-day necessities like Pantry Partners and the Clothes Closet have been providing for years.”
Tracy Stone-Manning, a representative for Senator Jon Tester, said that she remembered being told by someone who visited the old location that, “These people are heroes to work where they do, it’s so bad that when the refrigerator kicks in, the lights go dim.”
Stone-Manning read a letter from Tester in which he stated, “I know you all worked under very difficult conditions for too many years and I am so pleased that today you are breaking ground…This is a wise investment of federal dollars that will pay off in this community for years to come.”
Architect Lee Kierig, who volunteered a lot of time and effort before landing the job to design the new building, expressed his love for the community members that worked so hard to make this new building a reality. Building contractor Rich Patterson of Patterson Construction was also present.
Catalina Gerner told the crowd that she was one of the first to benefit from the food bank about 25 years ago when she found herself and her children in “a less than ideal situation.” She said the people at Pantry Partners helped her in her most needful time. “I had three children and a very limited ability to speak English and this community stepped up and helped me out,” said Gerner. “I am so grateful and happy to be here.”
Gerner is now an accomplished English speaker and is currently teaching Spanish at the Bitterroot College of the University of Montana.