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Flathead Food Bank buys Gateway Center space

by KIANNA GARDNER
Daily Inter Lake | January 3, 2021 12:00 AM

At the end of December, the Flathead Food Bank finalized its purchase of the space it currently operates out of at the Gateway Community Center in Kalispell, a decision officials say will set the organization for long-term success and growth.

The food bank first moved into the space in 2009, and according to Executive Director Jamie Quinn, she and others have spent the better part of the last five years searching for a permanent space to call home. After looking at various options, they determined the area at the south end of the center is an ideal space for current operations, offers plenty of opportunity for expansion and is in close proximity to other important nonprofits.

“We recognize the importance of the Gateway Center and United Way and know that having the food bank here, where other resources are nearby, is important to the people we serve,” Quinn said. “This purchase really ensures that we’ll be here for the long haul.”

Roxanna Parker, executive director of Northwest Montana United Way, which owns the Gateway Center and sold the space to the food bank at its appraised value, echoed Quinn’s enthusiasm for the purchase.

“We are thrilled that the Flathead Food Bank is now a permanent part of the Gateway Community Center. They are a wonderful partner for the Northwest Montana United Way and a perfect fit for the Gateway Community Center,” said Parker, who added that the United Way is in the midst of a capital campaign for the center. “The sale of the Food Bank space will reduce the mortgage and allows for some much-needed repairs, but we need the support of our entire community to ensure the long-term sustainability of the center.”

Quinn said establishing a permanent space also allows the food bank to move forward with other big plans that have been in the making some time.

IN THE coming months, the 27,000 square-foot space will be renovated to include additional pantry and freezer space that will eventually serve as a warehouse for Flathead County and beyond.

Currently, food banks throughout Montana order the bulk of their products from the Montana Food Bank Network in Missoula. The shipments typically arrive once every six weeks, meaning food bank directors must plan far in advance for their area’s needs.

But Quinn said now, with the new warehouse, the food bank will be able to store and distribute products to other nearby food banks and organizations more often. She also said the efforts will lighten the storage and shipment load for the network.

“The network is amazing in that they distribute to all of these different organizations throughout the state, but now we will be able to help by making sure northwest Montana has closer and quicker access to items,” Quinn said.

She added that the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated why it’s important that larger quantities of food are readily available for those in need.

In a typical year, the Flathead Food Bank donates around 1.5 million pounds of food, but the organization donated neary 3.5 million pounds over the course of 2020. While a lot of that food was distributed locally, the food bank also sent shipments to the Blackfeet Reservation and elsewhere.

“COVID has proved why the food bank is so important to the community. It’s critical that we are here and ready to step up when they need us most and warehousing will help us do that when the next big event comes along, whether that’s a pandemic or a natural disaster, or other catastrophes,” Quinn said. “Organizationally, we need to keep planning for those moments.”

QUINN SAID she hopes the space remodel and the warehouse will be complete by June of 2021. The organization will start off distributing to food banks and other organizations in Flathead County and will eventually serve neighboring Sander and Glacier counties. Quinn said the ultimate, long-term goal is to be the primary warehouse for all of Northwest Montana.

In addition to developing the warehouse, other 2021 plans for the Flathead Food Bank will hopefully include breaking ground on a commercial kitchen.

The addition will be used to transform perishable products into nonperishable items. For example, the shelf life of apples could be extended by making them into applesauce, apple juice or apple chips.

Quinn said the kitchen also will be used for the Flathead Food Snack Program, which the Flathead Food Bank took over in 2020. The program ensures children throughout Flathead County receive healthy snacks on a regular basis.

Overall, Quinn said the long-awaited purchase of their space at the Gateway Center, the upcoming warehouse and commercial kitchen remodels and other efforts are means for guaranteeing the food bank, which was founded nearly 40 years ago, will be around for decades to come.

“Short of major governmental changes, the food bank will be something the community needs for years to come. When you look back at modern history, they [food banks] have always been there to help people through some of the toughest times,” Quinn said. “We know not every year will be as chaotic as 2020 and things will get easier, but when they aren’t, the community knows we’ll always be here to step up.”

Reporter Kianna Gardner can be reached at 758-4407 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com