By Tim Leeds 

HRDC answers questions on new food bank proposal


Last updated 3/11/2022 at 12:26pm

The District 4 Human Resources Development Council board of directors and its executive director, during the board’s monthly meeting, Thursday answered some questions and cleared up what they called some misconceptions about a proposal to build a new food bank in Havre.

“There’s been a lot of conversations that HRDC has not been involved in, and I wanted to take this opportunity to set the record straight,” HRDC Executive Director Carilla French said.

The issue has been a hot topic since Jim Treperinas asked Havre City Council to approve rezoning on a block with some of his property on Fifth Avenue to allow him to make a space for a new location for Havre Community Food Bank.

City council voted down the proposal at its meeting this month, 4-3.

Treperinas arrived at the HRDC board meeting late, after the public comment period was closed, but City Council Member Sara McKinney, former city council and current Great Northern Fair Board member Bob Kaul and Bob Sivertsen asked questions during the public comment section, which French answered.

One was in response to Kaul saying he understood HRDC approached Treperinas, which both French and board member Frank DePriest, who represents the Blaine County Commission on the board, both said was incorrect.

French said that Treperinas, who owns property utilized by one of HRDC’s housing program, heard the agency was looking for a new location for the food bank, and approached them about building a space and leasing it to HRDC for the food bank.

“I appreciate that he got excited and was supportive,” French said, but HRDC representatives repeatedly told him they hadn’t determined where to put it and a feasibility study had to be done first.

“We appreciate his time, appreciate he came to us, but we never agreed to anything,” she said.

French said HRDC missed a funding opportunity using federal pandemic relief dollars last fall, and now is back to square one, looking for funding for a feasibility or planning study so it can apply for grants for a new facility.

“So if you want to spread the word that we need donations or if you know people with money that would love to write us a big check,” she said, the project could move forward.

An inadequate facility

French said the community action program has managed the food bank for nearly two decades, and the facility is still functional — she said nothing is wrong with the building structurally — but its location, accessibility and size are a problem.

The food bank, formerly the North Havre Food Bank, was operated privately, but when the person managing it could not longer do so, asked HRDC to take over.

It did so in 2003, and became Havre Community Food Bank.

French said its location in North Havre and size is the problem, for accessibility for users and for delivery trucks and having adequate storage.

“The problem we have is it’s difficult for people to access, difficult for trucks to get in and out and not enough space,” she said.

A study will need to be done to find the best location, which could find that the Treperinas property is not where it should go, she added.

A missed opportunity

French said HRDC missed a pandemic-linked opportunity last fall when Hill County Commission and then-Havre Mayor Tim Solomon would not apply for a special grant.

She said this morning the Community Development Block Grant program offered special grants through the pandemic relief CARES Act funding that did not follow normal CDBG rules. Those rules include that entities — they must be sponsored by city or county governments — only have one grant or application active in each of its four categories at one time.

The CARES Act CDBG grants were separate from that and entities could make as many applications — and potentially be awarded multiple grants — without impacting other CDBG grants, French said, adding that the only rule was that if an entity applied for more than one grant it prioritized its applications.

She said Thursday night that HRDC cannot apply for the grants, as is normal for CDBG grants, and they must be sponsored by a city or county government.

But, she said, she approached the Hill County Commission but its representative on the board was very adamant and against sponsoring the application.

She said she then approached Solomon and he also was opposed to the idea.

Solomon could not be reached for comment this morning.

Hill County Commissioner Marck Peterson said this morning that his understanding was Hill County could not apply for another CDBG grant because it had other grant applications with a higher priority, and that he believed that due to the high size of the proposed grant it was not likely to be approved.

French said this morning that she and board members tried to explain to Peterson, and Solomon, that the CARES Act CDBG grants were separate, but they would not agree to sponsor the application.

She added that food needs are a very high priority in the county, which could have given the proposal a good chance in the process.

She said she has since seen in talking to several members that city council is very supportive of a new food bank, but as she always had gone through Solomon in previous requests, she had used that route.

She also said that Treperinas said he wants to lease out a facility, despite HRDC representatives repeatedly telling him they would have to buy a spot.

HRDC has no regular funding except for an annual $6,000 grant from U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, relying on cash — as well as food — donations for its operations, French said.

That means it can’t apply for loans because it can’t guarantee repayment and can’t rent or lease a space for the same reason.

And, for now, it has nothing to use to move forward.

“We do realize that the community is extremely supportive of the food bank, which is a big plus for us, and it’s exciting that people came in today to show support,” she said. “But, really, at this time we have zero dollars to put toward a new food bank.”

Moving forward with no funds

French said that, while it is disappointing to miss an opportunity which would not have required matching funds or a feasibility or planning study, HRDC will proceed with looking for a new food bank location.

She said Thursday night that HRDC has approached the city and county multiple times on the issue in at least the last five years, but those governments had other priorities for applications, which she added were important projects.

Now, HRDC is again looking for ways to find funding for a feasibility study, which essentially means fundraising.

She said this morning it still is a long-range goal of HRDC to have a new food bank location. The only question is how long making that happen will take.


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