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Foundation boosts food pantry at high school

| March 13, 2024 2:00 AM

The Whitefish Community Foundation donated $7,700 to support and expand the food pantry at the Columbia Falls High School. The pantry food is provided by Land to Hand, a local nonprofit that does a world of good at Columbia Falls schools.

Whitefish Community Foundation’s Kids Fund grant will be used to purchase a refrigerator, microwave, table, shelving, food, hygiene products, and more for the pantry. Students will be able to “shop” for the items they need, as well as prepare food in the new space. Land to Hand also operates a garden at the Columbia Falls Junior High and administers and funds a food program for less fortunate students in the district from kindergarten through high school.

All told, it helps feed about 375 students districtwide, including about 20 to 30 daily at the high school, which take advantage of the food pantry. 

About 50 students total take home food on the weekends, said Tamara Sundberg, the student and family advocate at the high school.

The total annual cost of the food program is about $191,000, said Land to Hand Executive Director Gretchen Boyer. It’s funded through private donations and grants, including significant support from the community foundation each year.

The high school plans on expanding the pantry to a full classroom, where it also offers other support to students, such as clothing and personal care items.

The district has a significant population of homeless students or students living under less than ideal conditions as they try to make it through high school.

“Tamara has done an amazing job to make them safe,” Boyer said.

The high school pantry is open to any student, Sundberg noted and the staff take pains to make sure there is no stigma associated with it.

The donated clothing, for example, is brands students will wear, such as Nike shoes and name brand coats. 

The pantry expansion is expected to be completed sometime in April.

The Kids Fund was created in 2019 to support programs in the areas of health, safety and education that mitigate challenges and prevent local youth from becoming homeless. To date, Whitefish Community Foundation has awarded nearly $600,000 in Kids Fund grants to Flathead Valley nonprofit organizations.

“Our mental and physical health are often the first to suffer when we don’t have access to the basic necessities of life, and we are thankful that Land to Hand is partnering with Columbia Falls High School to support students and their families,” Whitefish Community Foundation President/CEO Alan Davis said.