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Frugals leads effort to support local veterans

by Whitney England
Daily Inter Lake | June 28, 2020 1:00 AM

In recent times as businesses and organizations battle the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, many have altered their business models to stay afloat. Frugals in Kalispell adjusted, as did many others, but also found a creative way to give back to that same community keeping them in business.

For the month of May the longstanding restaurant devised a plan to raise money for the Northwest Montana Veterans Stand Down and Food Pantry. Frugals donated 10% of its proceeds and also encouraged its customers to contribute a few extra dollars for the cause. The fundraising effort raised nearly $10,000 in one month, and last week Frugals General Manager Cheryl Patterson presented the check to the food pantry.

“I just want to thank the community,” Patterson said. “Because if it weren’t for the community we couldn’t have raised that much money.”

Patterson explained that of the total $10,000 donated, $6,000 came solely from customer donations — community members choosing to give extra for the veterans. The month prior Frugals conducted a similar campaign for the Flathead Food Bank and donated right around $6,500 total, with only $1,600 coming from customer donations.

Patterson believes the increase in monetary donations from the restaurant’s customers is due to the large support veterans have in the local community. Frugals orchestrates a few different charity fundraisers every year, but with the hardships caused by COVID-19, the establishment wanted to make two charitable contributions back-to-back.

”Frugals is a company that really embraces the community,” Patterson said. “As people went through our line we asked them if they wanted to donate to the veterans, I couldn’t believe the response that we got from this community.”

Veterans Food Pantry Community Outreach Specialist Cinnamon Davis-Hall agreed, saying, “Our community loves our veterans.”

For some Frugals employees, the charitable contributions to the pantry are especially meaningful. Currently on the Frugals staff, several branches of the military are represented, including the Army, Marine Corps and Air Force. Jo Littlewolfe, a cook at Frugals who served four years in the Marine Corps and 13.5 years as active duty in the Army, attended the check presentation alongside two of the Frugals managers. Littlewolfe described the importance of the services the Veterans Food Pantry offers.

“Within five minutes of being in the valley and walking in here I was already registered, and had programs and services that I needed,” Littlewolfe said as she talked of the differences she has experienced as a veteran living in Kalispell versus Hawaii where she previously resided. “It’s insane how much everybody does for us here (in the Flathead Valley).”

Navy veteran Allen Erickson and his wife Linda opened the Northwest Montana Veterans Stand Down and Food Pantry just over 20 years ago. Linda Erickson explained when they started their organization there were very few services for veterans in the valley. Over the years the Ericksons have expanded their operations to include the Veterans Thrift Store, DME medical equipment and loan programs, homeless facilities and several more services.

According to the Ericksons it is common for civilians to not understand why the veterans need their own food pantry and store, but she explained people serving in the military are trained to not seek help and often dismiss the idea of needing charity. However, at the Veterans Food Pantry they see it as veterans helping veterans, which makes the families who utilize their services more comfortable seeking assistance.

The Veterans Food Pantry serves on average 186 veteran families per month, which equates to around 300 individuals. In order to utilize the food pantry, which gives people the opportunity to pick up a food box once a month, clients must be a low-income veteran, or the family or widow of a veteran.

The organization is also expanding various projects such as the Durable Medical Equipment Program and its new Camp Ponderosa, which will offer several new services including possible housing and retreats for veterans.

During the COVID-19 shelter in place order, the Veterans Food Pantry kept its doors open and continued serving the valley’s veterans as usual. Linda said they had to make a few adjustments to ensure social distancing and also required masks and gloves for shopping in the food pantry, but it was vital to the organization to continue their service.

“It was important to try to keep normalcy for the veterans, to keep any PTSD at bay,” Linda explained.

Davis-Hall said “it’s been amazing through all of COVID to watch the community come together and find new ways to donate… and support each other to keep the spirit of Flathead Valley going,” Davis-Hall said.

“I love that Frugals thought outside of the box on how to keep everybody excited, and keep us all supporting the veterans,” she added.

Reporter Whitney England may be reached at 758-4419 or wengland@dailyinterlake.com.