Grad returns to Columbia Falls to help feed the hungry

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Andrea Getts is glad to be back home.

After earning a psychology degree from Brigham Young University in Utah, the 2014 Columbia Falls High School Graduate is working with Farmhands Nourish the Flathead to help fight hunger.

Getts has been working with Farmhands since January as part of the AmeriCorps Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) program, writing grants and helping set up programs to battle hunger across the Flathead Valley, including Columbia Falls and the Canyon. While she is glad to be living and working in the area again, Getts says the journey home was an interesting one.

“I was a little lost and didn’t really know what I wanted to do next. I had heard about AmeriCorps and I decided to check it out and saw there was a position available in Whitefish. I didn’t even know what it was, but I knew I wanted to come back home to the Flathead Valley. So, I took the job without even knowing what I was getting myself into,” she said.

What she had gotten herself into was a full-time position helping find ways to organize and fund programs to help the hungry.

Since starting in January, Getts has been instrumental in getting several new Farmhands programs up an running, including securing a $14,000 grant for their summer feeding program, which provides lunches for school-aged children at five locations in Columbia Falls, Hungry Horse, Martin City and Coram.

“A lot of kids are on the free and reduced lunch program at school, but when the summer rolls around they no longer have that option for their meals,” she said. “This program helps fill that gap and make sure that no kids in the area have to go hungry.”

Getts said the program came together quickly, going from the planning state to implementation in around five months, and has been very successful so far this summer. She said the response has been especially good at Horine Park, where the program has fed as many as 60 kids in a single day this summer.

Getts has also been busy this year battling hunger in area schools, securing a $6,000 grant for the Breakfast after the Bell program at Glacier Gateway Elementary.

“A lot of kids come to school late, after the bell has rung. Breakfast is offered in the cafeteria, but not after the bell rings,” she said. “If kids that haven’t had breakfast come after that, they have to wait a long time until lunch to be able to eat. Being hungry can be a distraction from learning and we wanted to help fight that.”

The program helps provide a cart of food near the school’s main office, so kids who check in after the bell rings can pick up something to eat and take it to class with them.

With these programs already up and running, Getts says she is now focusing on new projects, including one which would help give a voice to those dealing with hunger.

Getts says she is looking to start a speakers bureau so that those using programs meant to help battle hunger can tell their stories and help policy makers understand their needs.

“We want people to be able to tell their stories. A lot of people have the idea in their heads that people who use food assistance programs got themselves into that situation by making bad choices. That is not necessarily the case and we want to make sure that people understand that,” Getts said. “We want to help give these people a voice so they can be more involved in helping us and others when planning assistance programs.”

Getts says she hopes to have the speakers bureau up and running before her one-year AmeriCorps assignment is up in January, after which she is not sure what she will be doing next.

“I just figured out what I am doing this year,” she said. “Next year I’ll have to figure out something new, but I know I want to stay in Montana and in this area, if I can.”

For more information on Farmhands Nourish the Flathead’s programs, visit www.nourishtheflathead.org.

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