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Pandemic doesn’t stop kids clothing program

by SCOTT SHINDLEDECKER
Daily Inter Lake | November 14, 2020 12:00 AM

The COVID-19 pandemic may have altered the Kalispell Firefighters Association annual winter clothing program for kids in 2020, but it didn’t stop it.

On Thursday, members of the association and the Kalispell HEART Program worked to distribute 60 winter coats, snow pants, boots and winter hats to elementary school students at Kalispell elementary schools.

It was the seventh year for the program and certainly the most challenging.

“We have a 3-on-3 basketball tournament every summer to raise money for the coats, but with COVID we couldn’t do it this year, but we scrounged up enough money to do it again,” Kalispell Fire Department Capt. Mike Chappius said.

The Kalispell Firefighters Association (IAFF Local 547) started the 3-on-3 tournament to raise funds for community causes. Before 2020, the tourney grew to hosting more than 100 teams in 2019 and had sponsorship from three dozen local businesses.

Typically, the team effort would have provided between 150 and 200 coats for kids, but with the effects from COVID, things were scaled back

HEART, which stands for Homeless Education and Resources Together, has the HEART Locker, a free store that dispenses donated clothing, hygiene products, bedding, school supplies and more to K-12 students at its Kalispell location. It also has a learning center that provides a quiet and safe space for students to complete homework, study, use a computer, connect with resources, find employment and more.

The learning center is by appointment only due to the pandemic.

“It’s been tricky with COVID getting things done,” said Casey Driscoll, an AmeriCorp Vista employee who works with the HEART Locker. “The learning center is by appointment only now, but it seems to be working well so far.”

Driscoll said the Firefighters Association reached 0ut to HEART to help coordinate the clothing donation effort.

“We’ve had to do things a little differently this year,” Driscoll said. “There would normally be a community event, but to keep with social distancing guidelines and not having large groups of people, we went from school to school to distribute everything.”

The HEART program is accepting cash and merchandise donations. For more information, call 406-751-3630 or go to kalispellheartprogram.org.

Reporter Scott Shindledecker may be reached at 758-4441 or sshindledecker@dailyinterlake.com.