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Libby Food Pantry still providing for its community

by HAYDEN BLACKFORD
Daily Inter Lake | May 19, 2023 7:00 AM

After moving out of its location in the 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 volunteer, Chloe Adamson, reflected on the changes it has been through over the past year. Adamson is a 30-year Libby Food Pantry volunteer.

Initially, when the pantry was looking for a new location, there were none available, Adamson said. Eventually, what was previously known as the JC Clubhouse, a county building that had been vacant for several years, became a viable option.

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

The building, originally constructed in the early 1960s, needed a great deal of upgrading. To add more workable 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 two freezers and the one cooler that the pantry utilizes. 

Originally the thinking was that the freezers would go inside, but it was quickly realized that that would have taken up much of the needed interior space, so installing them outside the clubhouse became a viable option, Adamson said.

"Finding a place where you could move them inside was almost impossible," Adamson said.

Once the units were put into place, 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 into several thousands of pounds, the concern was that the building's aged floors would not be able to support this 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 freezer 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.

With new amenities such as heat, and the need to refrigerate produce and meats, monthly utility costs are a new focus for the pantry as they help those in need.

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

Food storage throughout different classrooms in Asa Wood meant that sorting, collecting, and donating the food was inefficient. The newer building requires "less foot-steps," 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 food drives, the Post Office Drive, which collected about 2,500 pounds of 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.

Most of the pantry's money goes to food, Adamson said. In 2021-2022 the pantry spent $99,000 on food. The money for moving and renovations largely came from grants.

Some costly additions to the financial equation are monthly utility bills. At Asa Wood, the pantry was charged a flat rate with no utilities. That's no longer the case.

Yet the lights still need to come on, freezers and refrigerators need to run, the phones need to remain on, and the pantry has to pay for water and propane.

"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 other donors who could contribute to the utility expenses, Admason 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."