By Michael Howell
For a lot of Pantry Partners volunteers the new facility which recently opened its doors on the corner of ALC Way and Middle Burnt Fork Road is nothing less than a dream come true. For years the organization has gotten by operating out of old residential structures that weren’t designed to house a food bank. Storage space was extremely limited, space for clients was cramped to say the least, access to the shelves along narrow aisles required special dexterity, refrigerator and freezer space was very limited, excess fresh foods were set out on the porch.
Board members and volunteers recognized a long time ago that to really be viable in the long run the food bank needed its own facilities designed to accommodate the kind of enterprise they were operating. According to board member Arnie Polanchek, about a dozen years ago the members set that as a goal and began a series of fundraising activities aimed at making it a reality. But after years of golf tournaments, raffles and art shows, it became evident that the fundraising efforts would not be enough to achieve their goal.
Then they discovered that a Community Development Block Grant was available for such projects.
“No one in our group had ever written a grant before,” said Polanchek. “So we split the application up into four parts and four board members each took a part.” The County co-sponsored the grant application and $450,000 was awarded in 2009. After that they also succeeded, with some legislative pull, at getting $200,000 in Housing and Urban Development funds for the project as well. Both grants were solely for building and equipment. Ongoing fundraising will be required to keep the shelves and freezers stocked.
Obviously proud of the new facility, Polanchek said, “For an all-volunteer outfit it has achieved wonders.” He was also proud of his community for making it possible.
“This building stands as a testament to the generosity of our community,” said Polanchek. “The building is a reflection of how much they care.”
Kathy Belke, President of the Pantry Partners Board of Directors, said that the Stevensville School Board and the voters were also to thank for approving a 50-year lease of the property on which the building sits. She said that Julie Foster of the Ravalli County Economic Development Authority did an outstanding job at administering the grant and coordinating all the parties involved. Local Architect Lee Kierig designed the building and Rich Patterson served as the contractor for the building project. She said that visitors at the planned open house celebration will see firsthand what an incredible job these two did.
She said that the community involvement in the project has been tremendous. She said close to 30 people showed up last Friday to help make the big move into the new facility. She said ten LDS home schoolers were especially helpful in the move. Belke said that the first day of operation, Monday, November 21, was astounding as more people than ever showed up to take advantage of the services.
Belke said that many local hunters also help support the food bank. She said that two local packing companies, Hamilton Pack and North American Foods, will accept game for the food bank. Hunters simply have to drop off the game and Pantry Partners pays for the processing.
“And now we have plenty of freezer space to store the meat,” said Belke.
Belke said that the pantry is currently gearing up for its annual Christmas Food Box program to be held at St. Mary’s Family Center on December 20, from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The event is for Pantry Partners clients only.
Pantry Partners is open every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The Clothes Closet, a free clothing store, is located in an adjoining portion of the building and is open every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m.
Anyone interested in volunteering, donating, or simply seeking information can call Pantry Partners at 777-0351. The Clothes Closet may be reached by calling 777-5694 or 961-4614.
The Open House dedication ceremony is scheduled for Tuesday, December 6, from 1 to 3 p.m. The facility is located on the corner of ALC Way and Middle Burnt Fork Road. Refreshments will be served.