By LeAnne Kavanagh – Pioneer Press Editor
Five years ago, the volunteers of the Kidpack Program packed their first backpacks filled with food to send home with “food insecure” students. At that time, the Kidpack Program helped 24 families with 71 children. Two years later, 45 families with 110 children were being assisted. This year, the Kidpack Program is helping whopping 58 families with 138 children.
“We rely on donations to keep the program running and to be able to continue to purchase food for each time we fill the packs,” said Toni Montalban, one of the program’s organizers. “One of the best things about donating to Kidpacks, is you know where your dollars are going. They are staying right here in Cut Bank and every penny goes toward buying food for the Kidpack Program.”
Thanks to the generosity of NaturEner USA that worry is no longer a priority. NaturEner USA operates three wind farms in Glacier and Toole Counties. NaturEner’s Glacier 1, Glacier 2 and Rim Rock and all three gave substantial donations to the Kidpack Program in Cut Bank. Glacier 1 and 2 donated $1,000 each and Rim Rock added another $1,500.
“As far as why we chose the Kidpack program? The basic reason was because of the good it’s doing for the kids in the community,” said NaturEner office administrator Sara Brown. “NaturEner is a family-based company and we wanted to support the children and families in the area. This program is a great way to do that.”
NaturEner presented the $3,500 to the Kidpack Program last month and those funds will help purchase food items for the remainder of the school year.
“We are very appreciative of NaturEner’s generosity and support of the Kidpack Program,” said LeAnne Kavanagh, who together with Montalban organized the Kidpack Program five years ago.
Montalban knows firsthand the challenges of educating children who are hungry. She was a Special Education teacher at H.C. Davis Elementary School for 30 years before retiring in 2013.
“I guess you can either be sad about it or you can do something about it. We opted to do something about it,” said Montalban.
“If you’re like me, you take for granted that every child’s basic needs are being met. You’d be surprised how often that isn’t the case and how difficult it is for some of these older children, many of whom are already out on their own. We can help make their lives a little easier and give them a reason to stay in school and get that degree,” added Kavanagh.
The Kidpack program was formed with the assistance of the Cut Bank Education Foundation and Alumni Association (CBEFAA) and is now in its fifth year. The Kidpack Project is aimed at filling the gap for those children who frequently eat breakfast and lunch at school.
Backpacks of food items are sent home with the elementary students during long weekends and the third or fourth weekend of the month when family resources are getting low or running out. To assist the older students, a pantry with food, personal hygiene and school supplies has been set up in the Cut Bank Middle School and High School.
The CBEFAA, which is a non-profit corporation, provided a $1,000 donation to underwrite the program in 2011-12. The CBEFAA purchases new backpacks every other year to replace those that have worn out.
“Kids behave better in school and do better in school if they are being fed,” Montalban said. “The kids who are food insecure, which means they do not know where their next meal will come from, struggle with learning. Their bodies must be fed, which will help them while they are in school.”
It costs approximately $750 each time the Kidpacks are distributed, said Montalban. The Kidpacks are sent home at least once during the months of September, October, December, January, February, March, April and May. Additional distributions are scheduled if funds are available.
In November, instead of a “Kidpack” each family receives a gift certificate for a Thanksgiving dinner, complete with the turkey, potatoes, stuffing, gravy, rolls and a pumpkin pie! “We provide the certificate for the cooked turkey dinner from Albertsons. The cost of the certificate is approximately $60-$65 per family, which takes a pretty good chunk of our budget,” explained Kavanagh.
“Thanks to the proceeds from the annual Guns vs. Hoses softball game in July, which is organized by Kidpack volunteers, and the tremendous support we receive from the local firemen, law enforcement officers and Glacier County EMS, that fundraiser usually covers the cost of the Kidpack Thanksgiving meal, which is about $3,600,” she added.”
Each Kidpack includes a breakfast item, granola bar or fruit snacks, pudding, fruit cup, and a microwavable item, such as macaroni and cheese or ramen noodles, for lunch and dinner, for each child in the family for two days, or three days if it is a long weekend, as well as a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread.
“June Kennedy and Scott McCombs at Albertson’s have been absolutely wonderful for us to work with. They get us completely organized for the week we are putting the packs together and they help us find the best sales to meet the needs we have,” Montalban said. “We try to purchase items that are light weight so it is easier for the kids to carry the packs home,” Montalban said.
“We have some of the best volunteers in the world helping us,” boasted Montalban. “None of this happens without our volunteers and without the help of Angela Seifert and Diana Collins and, of course, June and Scott from Albertson’s.”
In addition to the generous donation by NaturEner, and caring community members, the Kidpack Program also receives donations from a few local organizations. The Cut Bank Masons and Cut Bank Elks Lodge have given a portion of their funds dedicated to community projects to the Kidpack Program.
For the past two years, organizers of the Montana Fun Weekend have donated their share of the 50/50 winnings to this worthwhile program. Another financial boost to the program was being added to the annual Combined Fund Drive two years ago.
Kavanagh recently completed an application for the Town Pump “Meals for Backpacks” program grant in hopes of landing grant funds to help sustain the program.
Making a tax-deductible donation to the Kidpack Program is easy. Simply make your check out to CBEFAA–Kidpack and then drop it off at the Administrative Office at Cut Bank High School or mail it to the Cut Bank Education Foundation and Alumni Association, at 101 3rd Avenue SE, Cut Bank, MT 59427 or drop it off at theCut Bank Pioneer Press office, located at 19 South Central.
“Our hope is to ‘pay it forward,’ in a sense. If we take care of feeding these hungry kids now, hopefully there will be less behavioral issues for them in the future, more focus in class and better grades,” concluded Montalban.