Barred from going to work during the ongoing federal government shutdown, a group of Glacier National Park employees have decided to put their time off to use by volunteering at the Flathead Food Bank today.
And the giving is a two-way street, with both the Flathead and North Valley food banks offering food donations to federal workers affected by the shutdown.
According to Flathead Food Bank Executive Director Jamie Quinn, about 20 furloughed employees have committed to joining the staff and volunteers in handing out food packages to those in need from 8:30 a.m. to noon today.
Quinn said the workers reached out to the food bank, looking for an opportunity to make the most of the shutdown. According to Quinn, the employees said they were tired of sitting at home and expressed to her a desire to get back to work by volunteering until they can return to work in the park.
“They care about their community, and they want to be here,” Quinn said of the workers.
The food bank also will provide food to the park volunteers if needed, she said, as well as any other federal workers impacted by the shutdown.
“No question,” she said. “We’re more than happy to feed anybody, especially some of our furloughed neighbors out here.”
The partial government shutdown, now in its third week, has left about 1,500 federal employees across Montana without pay until the shutdown ends, according to a Washington Post analysis that shows Montana has one of the highest numbers of federal workers affected by the shutdown.
Federal employees impacted include those who are furloughed and not working at all, as well as essential employees who are still on the job. All of those workers are expected to receive back pay once the federal government is up and running again.
Starting Monday, the North Valley Food Bank in Whitefish began extending its services to those government employees who aren’t getting paid.
Food Bank Warehouse Manager Kristie Lukes said she and the board decided Sunday evening to begin offering assistance to federal government workers in addition to regular clients in hopes of enabling them to ride out the shutdown.
“Hopefully, if we can help out on the food side, hopefully they can pay their rent and pay their bills that are due,” Lukes said.
By utilizing the extra food donated during the holiday food drives, Lukes said the food bank plans to distribute to affected government employees during regular distribution days and will have emergency food bags or boxes available every weekday during regular business hours.
Items offered include breakfast items such as granola bars and cereal, pasta and rice, canned goods, meat, dairy and bread. The amount provided will vary based on family size and availability.
Government employees will not be required to join the food bank’s client list and need only to produce a valid government ID in order to receive food.
Lukes said she and the board have no idea what the need for this service in the valley might be, but she expects to find out as people begin to take advantage of the opportunity over the next couple of weeks.
She estimated that with current stock, the food bank can manage to assist affected government employees for the next month. After that, she said, the food bank may require additional community support with more food donations.
“Who knows how long this is going to last, but we’ll do the best we can for however long we can,” Lukes said.
Flathead Valley Food Bank is located at 1203 U.S. 2 W, Suite 2 in Kalispell. Hours of operation are 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays, 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and 8 a.m. to noon on Fridays. Kalispell distributions take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7:30 a.m. to 5:45 p.m.
North Valley Food Bank is located at 251 Flathead Ave. in Whitefish. The facility is open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., with weekly distributions on Thursdays from noon to 2 p.m. For more information, visit https://www.northvalleyfoodbank.org/.
Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org