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The warmth of giving

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Whitney Bermes, left, organized the feminine hygiene products drive, which has raised over $3,000 in monetary donations and “trunk-loads” of products. PHOTO COURTESY OF WHITNEY BERMES

Warming Center drive provides dignity, comfort

By Mira Brody EBS STAFF

BOZEMAN – Last week, a pallet of women’s sanitary products arrived in Bozeman, delivered from the Albertson’s headquarters in Boise, Idaho. The pallet was a part of a feminine hygiene products drive organized by Bozeman local Whitney Bermes, and although hundreds of tampons may not mean much to some, to those in need they provide dignity during an uncertain time in their lives.

After hearing two years ago that feminine hygiene and other personal care products were a need at the Human Resource Development Council’s Warming Centers, Bermes, who also works as the communications coordinator for Gallatin County, rallied her friends and raised enough money to fill a Costco cart of donations.

Bermes and a group of volunteers used cash donations from the drive to purchase sanitary products at Costco. PHOTO COURTESY OF WHITNEY BERMES

This year’s drive, which she expanded to the Facebook group “Feminine Hygiene Products Drive for Warming Center,” raised $2,000 in just two days. The manager at the regional Albertson’s headquarters caught wind and sent over the pallet with more than $1,000 in feminine care products. As of Feb. 17, the drive’s monetary donations reached $3,145.

Bermes says the most powerful result is seeing the community’s generosity and willingness to help.

“I didn’t really realize that I needed to see this overwhelming support and generosity,” she said. “I just did this because I thought it would benefit women. I just love how you give people the framework to help and they run with it.”

HRDC operates a total of three community-funded shelters, two in Bozeman and one in Livingston. It also runs Blueprint, a transitional housing program for young people experiencing home insecurity and manages 47 different programs for those in need. These range from senior services programs to food, nutrition and financial-opportunity training to Fork and Spoon, Bozeman’s pay-what-you-can nonprofit restaurant.

“We want homelessness to be rare, brief and only one time,” said Kristin Hamburg, HRDC’s development director who’s no stranger to community need having worked for HRDC nearly the entire 26 years she’s lived in Bozeman.

In the Big Sky community, there are no Warming Center services. Sarah Gaither Bivins, operations manager for the Big Sky Community Food Bank, says they’ve often purchased hotel rooms to help those in Big Sky with home insecurity on cold nights or bus tickets to get them to one of Bozeman’s Warming Center locations. As of yet, she says, there are no concrete opportunities to provide emergency housing in Big Sky.

“We really do rely on that Warming Center to shelter people either working or looking for work in Big Sky,” Gaither Bivins said in an email to EBS. “At the Food Bank, we do have toiletries, bedding and other essentials that we distribute to those experiencing that type of need.”

In mid-January, the Big Sky Housing Trust and Lone Mountain Land Company announced a partnership on a workforce housing development project that will bring more affordable housing to the community’s employees. LMLC acquired Buck’s T-4 Lodge, the River Rock Lodge, the Powder Light parcel next to Ace Hardware and, most recently, the former American Bank property along Highway 64 with such projects in mind.

HRDC has been forced to adapt numerous services due to the pandemic in order to keep their customers and volunteers safe. Last spring during the stay-at-home order, the group leased a local hotel for housing and quarantine services and have had to limit capacity of their Warming Center locations to comply with social distancing measures. Customers can only use the center for sleeping, limiting their ability to socialize.

“People were in a stay-at-home order and needed to stay home to be safe, and our customers experiencing homelessness didn’t have a home to stay in and be safe,” said Hamgurg said, who also noticed an increase in need since the pandemic began.

Despite the challenges, HRDC has been unwavering in its community services. An annual back-to-school shopping event, usually hosted at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds, was adapted so at-risk youth could still “shop” for new and used clothing, supplies and personal care items such as razors, shaving cream, shampoo and conditioner, and hair ties.

“The reaction from the young men and women was just surprising,” Hamburg said. “We didn’t realize how much of a need there was for things that make you feel your best.”

The reaction from those donating is just as powerful.

“It tells me that I live in the best place in the entire world,” Bermes says of watching her drive come to life. “I’ve been in Bozeman for 10 years now and it’s just things like these that really reinforce that.”

Bermes says between monetary and product donations, as well as volunteer time, 94 individuals contributed to this year’s drive, a momentum she hopes will continue. While personal care items could be considered “luxury” goods as opposed to the common necessities we often think of when making donations, they can sometimes make the biggest difference in someone’s life—to feel comfortable, clean and dignified.

“Things just feel so negative,” said Hamburg of the events of this past year. “To have people you don’t even know reach out is so warming.”

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