DEER LODGE - Inside a small engine repair shop, veterans come to browse the shelves of the veterans food pantry, but food isn’t the only thing the pantry provides.
"We offer a whole lot more," said Jay Wood, owner of Jay's Small Engine Repair Shop.
"We’re a growing pantry I’d say," said Kirk Hayes, the food pantry's fundraising chair.
"We are. We really are," said Wood.
Wood had the idea of the Deer Lodge Veterans Food Pantry when he helped deliver 18 boxes of food before Christmas to veteran families in need.
"I had an area I thought that would be good for it. It was an area I didn’t use at the time," said Wood.
The food pantry serves over 300 veterans living in Powell County as well as Granite County and Anaconda-Deer Lodge County, but the pantry has become a lifeline for some to have companionship.
"A vet came in the other day and said I need you to pray for me. Well, yeah and we were able to stop and pray for him," said Wood.
Donations also go beyond just food. Safeway donated shelves and community members donated a freezer and refrigerator so meat and other cold items can be donated to families.
Scott Bernhard, one of the board members, says the board started the pantry to help those veterans who felt they couldn’t ask for help. They also want to expand on what the pantry offers.
"Hoping to add on other veteran services with a focus on reducing the number of veteran suicides per day. We would like to see zero," said Bernhard.
Hayes, an army veteran, says he knows what it’s like to not ask for help when it is needed.
"It’s just something in us. We believe we can do anything, and we don’t want to take anything from the local communities," said Hayes.
According to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, in 2019, an average of 17 veterans died from suicide each day — one every 84 minutes.
Hayes says he hopes the pantry continues to grow so they can help veterans across southwest Montana.
"We’re about taking care of our Veteran brothers and sisters here in this community and our best way of doing that is exactly what we’re doing here," said Hayes.
Food donations can be dropped off at Jay's Small Engine Repair.
Monetarty donations can be made through checks, cash, and Venmo at @dlvetsfoodpantry.