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Relocated Libby Food Pantry still providing for its community

by HAYDEN BLACKFORD
Daily Inter Lake | May 24, 2023 12:00 AM

After moving out of the defunct Asa Wood Elementary School in 2022, volunteers running the Libby Food Pantry are more than pleased with their new home.

The Libby Food Pantry is a community organization that provides food for eligible individuals and families. One longtime volunteer, Chloe Adamson, reflected on the changes it has been through over the past year. Adamson is a 30-year Libby Food Pantry volunteer.

When the pantry began looking for a new location, there were no viable options available, Adamson said. What was previously known as the JC Clubhouse, a county-owned building near Pioneer Park in Libby that had been vacant for several years, eventually emerged as a possible solution.

Working with the Lincoln County commissioners, the pantry negotiated a contract to rent the building for five years at $1 a year.

Originally constructed in the early 1960s, the building needed a great deal of work. To add more space, two large concrete slabs were poured, one at each end of the original building. The slab on the east end was laid to provide footing for the pantry's cooler and two freezers.

Originally the thinking was that the freezers would go inside, but it was quickly determined that that would have consumed much of the needed interior space, so installing them outside made the most sense, Adamson said.

Once the units were emplaced, they were enclosed to safeguard them from weather and critters.

The slab on the west end was needed for the pantry's large stock of canned goods. As the weight runs upwards of several thousands of pounds, volunteers were concerned that the aging floors would buckle under the load. The slab provides a solid foundation for the essential canned goods that the pantry provides for its clients.

After everything started falling in place, volunteers came to help move the pantry to its new location. In addition to the slabs, the pantry had electrical work done to accommodate the freezers and razed a garage to add storage, Adamson said.

"That was a big help for us," Adamson said, "Some of the local people gave us good discounts on what we needed."

The new building has heat, unlike the old location in Asa Wood. Heating makes the building a nicer place to be in the winter, she said.

But with new amenities such as heat, and the ever present need to refrigerate produce and meats, monthly utility costs are a new focus for the pantry.

"The only thing that we're considering now is how we're gonna keep paying the light bills and the phone bills," Adamson said.

The pantry is searching for a solution and one possibility is finding donors who could contribute to utility expenses, Admason said.

MUCH OF the work on the building was funded through grants and donations from charitable foundations, including the Cadeau Foundation. Now that the building has added storage, it can hold about the same amount of food as the former location. Adamson said.

Food stored throughout different classrooms in Asa Wood meant that sorting, collecting and donating the food was inefficient. The newer building requires "less footsteps," Adamson said.

While food storage has remained the same, the community's need for aid has grown steadily. The food pantry helps more than 230 families a month. This number is up from about 150 families over the past two-to-three years, Adamson said.

Additionally, the number of food donors has largely remained the same. The pantry recently finished one of its annual drives, the Post Office Drive, which collected about 2,500 pounds of food.

Most of the pantry's budget goes to food, Adamson said. In 2021-22 the pantry spent $99,000 on food.

The pantry's volunteer force has remained steady as well, but some additions from a younger generation could help keep it that way, Adamson said.

"We need any help that we can get, food-wise, money-wise, volunteer-wise," Adamson said. "We need any kinda help that we can get."