By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor
BIG SKY – The Big Sky Community Food Bank has been a long time coming, and now a group of locals is collaborating to make the food bank a reality.
Anne Marie Mistretta saw the necessity when she was superintendent of Ophir School from 2005 to 2010. “I could see families of schoolchildren in need, and I could also see there were people in the community in need,” she said.
Between 50 and 75 households from the Big Sky/Gallatin Canyon area use the Gallatin Valley Food Bank in Bozeman each month, said Tim Trzinski, program director there.
The need was clearly there, but nothing came of it until Country Market owner Lynne Anderson approached Mistretta last February. Anderson has long donated food to seasonal workers.
“I understand you have an interest in this,” she said to Mistretta. “I have a passion for it.”
The two set about finding other interested parties, and came up with a nine-member advisory board. In addition to Anderson and Mistretta, the seven other community members are Dianne Bartzick, Deb House, Leonard Izzo, Gayle Palmer, Leslie Piercy, Margaret Leeper, Leah Johnson. They have connections to the Gallatin Canyon Women’s Club, the Big Sky School District, the Chamber of Commerce and the Big Sky Rotary, among other local businesses.
They found a location available for rent at the Big Horn Center on Highway 191, and it fit their criteria for privacy and being along a bus route.
But without startup money, the project was at a standstill for several months.
Until Kym Rapier, standing in line to buy groceries, overheard Anderson bemoaning the situation.
“What’s the problem?” asked Rapier
Anderson explained, and “that was the end of that.”
Rapier, who moved to Big Sky with her husband George six months ago, runs charities through their Rapier Family Foundation. Within 24 hours, Rapier had contacted the owner of the property in the Big Horn Center and made arrangements for the space. She also helped cover the first year’s rent and repairs needed for the building.
“There are a lot of people that need help,” Rapier said, “especially during Christmas and Thanksgiving.”
Set to open in mid-November, the BSFN will be a subsidiary of the Gallatin Valley Food Bank, which falls under the nonprofit Human Resources Development Council.
The GVFB already helps administer the Headwaters Food Bank in Three Forks, as well as several other mobile pantries around the county. Ultimately, Trzinski said, the Big Sky location will be another satellite office, with food services, and other resources like energy and housing assistance. It will also be a place to educate and connect people to other services.
“It will literally be an extension of our office,” Trzinski said. “Moving food down there just helps us serve folks we would be serving anyway, a little bit more conveniently.”
GVFB will provide volunteer training, a database for client management, a portion of the food to stock shelves, and staffing early on until the BSFN gets off its feet.
The BSFN will follow the shopping model GVFB uses, which means clients can shop for a five to seven day supply of food, once every 30 days.
Anderson and Mistretta, with their passion and startup energy, hope the community will embrace the food bank.
“This is only my baby because I’m jumpstarting it,” Anderson said. “I want the community to take ownership of it.”
That will mean people volunteering time for fundraising or stocking shelves, donating food or warm clothes, cash and supplies, and helping recognize needs.
Students from Lone Peak High School have already helped with stocking, and the Gallatin Canyon Women’s Club coordinated several food drives over the summer. The BSFN has also partnered with its neighbor the Consignment Cabin to set up a program for donating winter clothes.
Anderson anticipates the BSFN will be open two days a week, Tuesdays from 3 – 7 p.m. and Fridays from 1 – 4 p.m., but says that’s not set in stone.
There will be a work day at the BSFN on Nov. 3 starting at 9 a.m. Volunteers can stop by any time and “we’ll put them to work,” Mistretta said.
“What we want to do is have people understand it’s a very pleasant facility, and it’s an extremely necessary program here.”
Currently, the food bank is looking for the following donations:
Chairs for intake centers
Substantial desk for intake centers or computer work stations
Baby formula with current date
Cash donations for food (these, Anderson says, have 30 percent higher value than donated food due to wholesale discounts)
Plumber to donate time plumbing sinks, toilets and washer/dryer areas