New food bank director seeks challenge

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Jessy Lee is the new executive director of the North Valley Food Bank. (Heidi Desch/Whitefish Pilot)

Jessy Lee began anti-hunger work as an intern at the Missoula Food Bank.

She worked in nearly every position at the food bank there, and now is bringing her experience to Whitefish as the new executive director of North Valley Food Bank.

“I wanted something that would be challenging,” she said in accepting the job in Whitefish. “And if you’re going to move Whitefish is a good spot to move to.”

Lee takes over for SueAnn Grogan-King, who served in the role for four years.

Lee grew up in Billings and moved to Missoula in 2006. She received her bachelor of social work from University of Montana. She completed her master of public administration at University of Montana just before accepting her new position here. She was awarded the MPA/Nonprofit Public Service Award recipient for the 2018-2019 academic year for her commitment to excellence in public service and academic excellence.

Lee first began working at the Missoula Food Bank in 2009 while still a student in the social work program. Eventually she was hired as a driver and later as a warehouse assistant and oversaw the creation of new programs including an after school food program that served 500 children.

“It’s a pleasure to serve the undeserved and work in anti-hunger programs,” she said.

The Food Bank’s Board President Jim Cummings said they’re thrilled to have Lee join their team.

“We had several well-qualified candidates,” he said. “We are confident we found the right person for the job.”

After just a few weeks on the job, Lee says she is still getting to know the community and the volunteers at the food bank. About 80 folks volunteer at the food bank weekly in various roles.

“There’s relationships to be nurtured with the people that have been supportive of the food bank,” she said. “I’d like to get more volunteers on board and look at ways to expand our programming.”

The food bank serves on average about 200 families per week. The food bank right now is in need of shelf-stable proteins such tuna and peanut butter, along with baby formula and diapers.

Lee and Kristie Lukes, the food bank’s warehouse manager, say they are always in need of more fresh produce.

“We always need produce,” Lukes said. “We always encourage healthy eating options and the more fresh produce we can get the better. Donations of produce right before our distribution day on Thursdays is great. We’re one of the few food banks that give out food every week so we can really take advantage of fresh produce.”

“We’re also always taking fresh produce that’s more shelf-stable like onions and potatoes,” adds Lee. “When you buy a bag for yourself pick up an extra and bring to the food bank.”

June Munski-Feenan famously started the food bank in her garage in 1977 and served as its director for decades. She died just a month after the nonprofit food bank moved into its new distribution center on Flathead Avenue in late 2013.

The food bank serves about 7,500 families and distributes more than 350,000 pounds of food each year. The food bank is open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Distributions go out every Thursday from noon to 2 p.m.

For more information on the food bank call 862-5863 or visit www.northvalleyfoodbank.org.

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