Ace Hardware owner donates slow cookers to the Big Sky Food Bank

Down home cooking

Ace Hardware owner donates slow cookers to the Big Sky Food Bank

A few years ago, Big Sky Community Food Bank Director Sarah Gaither found herself on a snowy drive to Bozeman from Big Sky in the dark. Her destination: the Bozeman Ace Hardware loading dock, where she stacked slow cookers into the Food Bank vehicle. The cookers had been purchased via a donation from a Big Sky resident, and she was of course happy to pick them up, but she knew there had to be a better way.

So when fall rolled around the next year, and the Food Bank was again able to procure slow cookers—this time via the Yellowstone Community Club Foundation—Gaither realized there was in fact a better option, to order them from Big Sky’s Ace Hardware. One of her volunteers, Dean Nally, worked at Ace and offered up his assistance in getting it done. 

“It just made so much more sense,” Gaither said, laughing as she recalled the dark snowy night of Crock Pot pickup and delivery.

The easy-to-use cooking devices were so popular with her clients that Gaither continued offering them last fall for the third year. Seeing the need, Big Sky Ace owner Kevin Barton realized he could take his support one step further—donating the cookers to the Food Bank directly through Ace rather than via a community fund. And with the help and guidance of his longtime employee Nally, it was an easy task.

Barton and Nally are again supporting the slow cooker donation this year. They’re currently getting orders ready now in anticipation of the heightened demand in the store as the holidays roll around. The cookers are a hot item then, flying off the shelves of Sweet T’s Kitchen, the kitchenware department named after Barton’s late wife Tina. 

Giving back to his community has always been a priority for Barton, who’s been running Big Sky’s Ace since 1993. He also offers a scholarship to Lone Peak High graduates in Tina’s name and sponsors a number of Big Sky community events and fundraisers. 

“It’s just a no-brainer,” said Barton. “It’s a way to put the funds where they’re needed most, and especially to get people through the holidays and whatever else. Helping someone have a happier Thanksgiving dinner is always good.”

Lending a hand to the Food Bank is something Nally, who also can be found lending a hand at the Big Sky Community Organization, says he takes pride in. 

“It’s about helping a part of the community that really needs it,” he said. “It’s not the easiest place to get through the off-seasons, with seasonal work it can be tough to keep going, to keep funds for food.”

Slow cookers fill an important need for Food Bank customers. Gaither said she sees many clients, especially those in employee housing, who don’t have full kitchens to cook in, or share a kitchen with a number of roommates. 

“So these can be really important to them,” she said, noting that about 100 of the cookers are given out throughout the fall and winter. “It’s so nice, especially in the winter, to come home and have something smelling so good and already cooked.”

Beyond ease of use, Gaither has received feedback that the cookers serve up other bonuses as well. 

“People have told me the Crock Pots have really helped them be smarter about planning their meals,” she said. “They have to think ahead, and they find that in doing that it’s often cheaper than last-minute purchasing.”

And, Gaither added, the slow cooker meals are often healthier than going out for something quick like a greasy pizza or cheeseburger.

The signs of off-season, or shoulder season, if you will, are all around Big Sky by mid-October. But the Food Bank is not a ghost town—in fact, it’s the opposite situation once the resort and local businesses close their doors for a while. 

“We’re just starting our busiest time right now,” Gaither said. “When Oct. 1 hits, customer numbers double from the summer. When Oct. 15 hits, those numbers triple, and by November, those numbers are quadruple what they are in the summer.”

The uptick at the Food Bank can be attributed to higher unemployment rates, new employees getting to town but not yet starting work, and that once employees do start working, there’s usually a two-week wait before that first paycheck comes around.

That said, now is the time the Food Bank could really use donations from the community. When asked what’s needed most, the Thanksgiving boxes the Food Bank puts together came to mind for Gaither. Last year 68 boxes, complete with all things Thanksgiving dinner—from a turkey to the fixings for stuffing, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, pie and the like—were passed on to the community. So things of that nature would be an excellent item to donate now.

“And, especially those small, pre-cooked turkey breasts that you can put in a Crock Pot,” Gaither said, always thinking of ways to incorporate the items she’s got on hand.

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