Providence St. Joseph Medical Center Fights Food Insecurity in Rural Western Montana
Residents of Lake County in Western Montana are surrounded by natural splendor, from Flathead Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River, to three national wildlife refuges, with all of it braced by the soaring, snow-capped Mission Valley mountain range. The area is also rich in history and diversity, with most of Lake County lying within the Flathead Indian Reservation, which is home to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
Providence St. Joseph Medical Center has proudly been an anchor institution in the area for over a century, beginning as a six-bed hospital founded by the Religious Hospitallers of Saint Joseph. In addition to serving the community as a critical access hospital, Providence St. Joseph Medical Center is committed to the health of its communities outside of the hospital walls.
“Access to healthy food is as important to a community as is access to quality medical care,” explains Joyce Dombrouski, Chief Executive of the Providence Montana. “We are fortunate to have partner organizations in the area that are deeply committed to food security.”
In 2019, Providence St. Joseph Medical Center proudly supported organizations in Lake County including Polson’s Loaves and Fish Food Bank, Ronan’s Bread Basket and the winter food program at Polson schools.
Mary Martin with Loaves and Fish Food Bank describes living in Polson as “paradise on food stamps.” Cassidy Green with the Montana Food Bank Network describes why food insecurity is a unique challenge in rural areas. “Rural Montanans are at an increased risk for food insecurity as jobs are scarce and access to healthy foods is sometimes over 50 miles away.”
On the importance of food banks in rural communities, Green continues, “Food pantries in rural Montana areas are often the only option to healthier food options that come with an increased price tag in a grocery store like fresh fruits and vegetables, milk and meat.”
Seventy percent of students in Lake County qualify for free or reduced school meals; during extended school closures, students and families are without a critical source of healthy food. With St. Joseph Medical Center’s support, this winter Polson School District provided transportation, meals and activities to 110 students during the winter break.