Frannie Schmitz saw a need and decided to do something about it. And with a little help from the community, the need might just be met.
For many years, Stevensville has had a summer food program, where kids could go and get breakfast and/or lunch. For a long time it was held at the St. Mary’s Family Center, and last year it was at the Methodist Church. But this year Frannie noticed there was no program at all.
Frannie is someone who might be called an advocate for Stevensville’s young people. She’s passionate about education and attends nearly every school board meeting. She’s served as president of the Stevensville Booster Club, and has served on the North Valley Public Library Foundation. She recently organized a “prom dress drive,” collecting prom dresses to give away at no cost to anyone who needed one.
“I’ve always been concerned about our children here,” says Frannie. “I’m in the school a lot.” She knows that there are about 40-45 children in K-5 being served by the Kids Backpack Program, a program where backpacks full of food are sent home on the weekends with children who are experiencing food insecurity. She knows that the middle schoolers have access to a food closet that is stocked with food that is free for the taking.
But what do these families do in the summer when school is out and there is no formal program? Frannie is organizing her own response to that challenge, the Stevi Summer Food Program. She has organized a food drive with a list of food items that can be purchased at Super 1, Burnt Fork Market, or on Amazon. Purchased items can be dropped off in the marked bins at the front of the stores.
“This is better than nothing,” says Frannie. “I’ve tried to pick out better foods, with some nutrition, and less sugar.” The bags of non-perishable food will contain 4 breakfast items, 4 lunch/dinner items, 4 fruits, 8 snacks and 4 drinks. Some of the foods listed, for example, are muffins, Nutri-Grain bars, mac and cheese bowls, Vienna sausages, cheese sandwich crackers, popcorn, 100% juice boxes. No cookies or candy, and all easy to prepare.
Volunteers will then bag the food at a central location and distribute the food once per week. Frannie said there is still some need for volunteers to help with the bagging.
She’s also checking into distribution sites. Summer school would be one obvious choice. The Stevensville Senior Center, where the free Soul Suppers are handed out every Wednesday, is a possible site. The Methodist Church is another. She said she’s also checking into businesses that might be appropriate for this.
She said one of the most difficult parts of this is trying to make sure this food gets to the people who really need it. She said, regarding free food distribution, she’s heard adults say “‘I don’t qualify’ or ‘I’m too embarrassed.’ If they’re feeling that way, the kids might be too. High schoolers might feel a stigma attached. How do we get them the food they need?”
But despite that challenge, Frannie is going to keep pressing forward on this, and it seems to be gaining some momentum in the community. The Stevensville Western Heritage Days Committee, which has typically run a food drive leading up to the event and donated the food to the school, has decided to partner with Frannie’s program for this year, to avoid duplication and to augment what she’s doing. Frannie has been in contact with the Montana Food Bank to see if they can help. Some grant applications are in the works as well.
Frannie estimates the cost of the food at $15 per child per week. With a target of 80 children per week, she calculates that an 11-week program would cost about $13,200. She is working with Pantry Partners Food Bank to see if any of the items can be purchased more cheaply through the food bank. She said that some items are cheaper at Costco so some will be purchased there. Donations of cash from the public are also being accepted. Frannie said that if there is any money left at the end of the summer, she will work with daycare and the school district to see if they need to continue the program. If not, they will use the money to help fill pantries at the school for use by students when needed.
“Our community is an amazing community and everyone always comes together,” said Frannie. “But if for some reason things don’t come together, this food won’t go to waste.”
As of last Thursday, Frannie was $600 shy of having enough money to cover the first week’s food. Donations can be sent to Stevensville Booster Club, P.O. Box 626, Stevensville MT 59870. (Be sure to note that it’s for the Summer Food Program).
“If the program goes the way I hope,” said Frannie, “places like the police and fire department could ask for bags if they saw a need in the course of their jobs. We don’t need to know who is getting these bags. It could become a year-round program.”
“It is important to me to know that people know that I saw the need and I’m attempting to fill the need,” says Frannie. “I don’t have experience but I’ve raised my kids. Sometimes we just have to jump. I’m totally open to suggestions and any help is appreciated.”
Frannie can be contacted at (406)777-3579, (225)304-3947 or by email at [email protected] Stevi Summer Food Program is also on Facebook.