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GFPS Food Pantry program helps families during holiday season

Posted at 1:54 PM, Nov 21, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-21 16:42:08-05

GREAT FALLS — High prices across all areas of our lives is on the minds of everyone, especially this holiday season. With Thanksgiving a few days away, families from near and far will gather to celebrate tradition and each other. For some families in the Great Falls Public School system they are received extra help to make this Thanksgiving memorable.

The 21 schools in the GFPS School District offer a food pantry for students and families in need of assistance.

"For some of these kids its essential," explained Jerilynn Campbell, a Teacher's Aide at Whittier Elementary School.

Ashley Oppelt added, "For some of these kids they don't have it at home."

Whittier Elementary School sits on the north side of downtown Great Falls. According to Principal, Corri Smith, the school does all it can to provide help to its families.

"We have a high population of socioeconomic disadvantaged families. Kids are in need. Families are in need. We are just so happy that we can do this.”

The schools food pantry is filled with a range of non-perishable items, milk, eggs, and frozen beef. It's not limited to food but offers school supplies, clothing, and sanitation products.

"We are always in need of colored pencils," expressed Smith.

With over 10,000 students throughout the Great Falls Public School District, the need stretches beyond Whittier. It's a concern that many families face amid rising prices for goods.

"Our biggest concern is that their kids are here to learn."

"When you don’t know where your next meal is, that’s all you think about," added Campbell. "Where am I going to eat next? Am I going to be fed breakfast at school?"

The Great Falls Public School Foundation purchased 300 turkeys from New Rockport Hutterite Colony in Teton County. Those turkeys will be distributed throughout families in need in the district.

With the help of Grassland and Big Stone Colonies near Great Falls, 45 pumpkin pies and packages of dinner rolls will be distributed in 45 Thanksgiving boxes for Whittier families.

On top of the support from surrounding colonies,Life in Bloom, a flower boutique in Great Falls donated stuffing, corn, and potatoes for the boxes. Principal Smith says that Life in Bloom is a long time donor to Whitter families and it is thankful for its continued support.

"That is so heartwarming. I just have never been in a school that has an outpouring for help," shared Smith.

A group of retired GFPS teachers helped pack the Thanksgiving boxes on Monday for pickup from families.

The GFPS Food Pantry system is a lifeline for families in need in the community. If you would like to donate to a GFPS Food Pantry, you can deliver donations to any school directly, contact the GFPS Foundation, or provide a monetary donation instead.

When MTN visited Whittier Elementary on Monday, Principal Smith shared a letter and a $500 check written from a Great Falls resident to add to its fund.

The school and its staff is eternally grateful for the support it receives from generous members of the Great Falls community.