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Nov. 21—Arriving at the Northwest Montana Veterans Food Pantry in Evergreen on Monday for a box stuffed full of Thanksgiving fixings, Kathleen Howard came with an offering of her own for the volunteers working during the holiday week: stroganoff.
"What would I do without it," Howard said of the U.S. 2 pantry. "They're so good. They're like family here."
The widow of George "Moose" Howard, who served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Kathleen Howard is one of 89 area residents with ties to military service expected to drop by the pantry for a holiday food box in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. Each kit is outfitted with turkey or ham, stuffing, potatoes, gravy, rolls, pie and "everything you need for fixings," said Cinnamon Davis-Hall, community outreach specialist for the pantry, which also features a thrift store open to the general public and operates Camp Ponderosa in Bigfork.
Arranged on the bottom level of the facility in a long line, the boxes were stacked three high on Nov. 20. Scouts with Boy Scout Troop 1901 and Troop 1916 packed them over the previous weekend.
The veterans and family members served by the pantry run the gamut, Davis-Hall said while pirouetting around volunteers and stopping to speak with clients on the first floor of the bustling building. Some are in their 20s while others served during the Korean War, she said. Many are either homeless or one missed paycheck away from homelessness.
"A veteran might not have a house to stay in or cook in, but maybe they can take it to a neighbor's house," Davis-Hall said.
Others might be on a fixed-income, she said. A couple might cook for two much of the year, but when the holidays roll around — and the kids and grandkids come to visit — the settings around the table tend to start multiplying.
"Everybody should have a holiday dinner," Davis-Hall said.
The nonprofit also hands out food boxes ahead of Christmas and its clients can pick up foodstuffs once a month throughout the year, she said.
Davis-Hall had earlier in the morning accepted $1,033 in cash donations from Ryan Keeler, quartermaster of the Glacier Park Post 2252 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Kalispell. The money was raised over the weekend during an annual veterans food drive held outside of Rosauers in conjunction with Bee Broadcasting, she said.
"We are so blessed with a community like this," Davis-Hall said. "We can do so much."
For Howard, it was the people running the pantry that deserved appreciation.
"I thank you for it from the bottom of my heart," she told Davis-Hall before saying good-bye. "You couldn't find better people."
For more information on the Northwest Montana Veterans Food Pantry, located at 1349 U.S. 2 E., Kalispell, MT 59901, go to veteransfoodpantry.org/ or call 406-756-7304. To learn more about Camp Ponderosa, visit veteranscampponderosa.org.
Cinnamon Davis-Hall, right, goes through foodstuffs stocked at the Northwest Montana Veterans Food Pantry on Monday, Nov. 17, 2023. (Derrick Perkins/Daily Inter Lake)