The Columbia Falls Child Assistance Team (CF CAT) has a new way to help homeless and students in need battle hunger after a new refrigerator was donated to the program in September.
The 25 cubic foot Samsung refrigerator was donated by the Kalispell Home Depot store and delivered to it’s new home at Columbia Falls High School by Home Depot’s Patrick Muzi and Jon Monroe Sept. 28. While School District 6 Student and Family Advocate/Homeless Liaison Tamara Sundberg says she was extremely grateful for the gift, she was not sure where the school was going to be able to put it.
“I was going to have the food pantry upstairs, which would have been a great space for the refrigerator, but I cleared it out to get ready and plugged in a heater, which blew the circuit for both rooms next to me. It was then that I realized that refrigerator would not work upstairs.”
High School Principal Scott Gaiser came to the rescue, suggesting the new fridge be placed in an unused space adjacent to the High School cafeteria. With the help of students Cole Berger, Hunter Ryan, Zack Grey, Gabe Sanchez, Beau Douglas and Alex Knapton, the refrigerator was placed in its new home.
For Muzi, it was a chance to give back to Columbia Falls High School, which his son attended.
“The store has a set budget to help programs like this every month and when we found out what was going on, we wanted to get involved,” Muzi said. “We didn’t want the cost of a new refrigerator to cut into the budget for food, so we decided to donate one. We are just glad to be able to contribute and make a difference.”
According to Sundberg, an increasing number of students have been making use of the CF CAT program over the past few years, not only at the high school but also at Ruder and Glacier Gateway Elementary Schools and the junior high. While the program helps the 5 to 10 percent of School District 6 students who are classified as being homeless (as defined by the McKinney-Vento Education of Homeless Children Act), it also strives the help the growing number of students identified as being in need.
McKinney-Vento defines homeless students as ones who are:
• Temporarily living in a public or private shelter
• Living with another family or “couch surfing”
• Sleeping in cars, public spaces or building not intended for habitation
• Staying in hotels or motels due to lack of fixed or adequate housing
Along with those students facing homelessness, there are many more students that are often in need of such basics as school supplies, food, toiletries, shoes, bedding or clothing. According to Sundberg, the 20 bags of fresh fruit and vegetables the program receives each week are claimed by students in need in just minutes and many more students take advantage of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich making stations that are provided around the high school every afternoon.
“The refrigerator is perfect. It’s in a central location and is exactly what we needed, but we still need more,” Sundberg said.
While an anonymous donor recently made a large contribution towards supplying food for the CF CAT program, more donations are still needed.
To get involved, contact Sundberg at 406-212-4669 for more information. Monetary contributions can be sent to CF CAT at P.O. Box 1259, Columbia Falls, MT 59912.