Sarah Gaither helps make sure the community is fed and has worked for years helping educate refugee children. PHOTO BY JANA BOUNDS

From Alaska to Big Sky – with love

Sarah Gaither makes a difference in Big Sky and abroad

From the Big Sky Community Food Bank to helping educate refugees, Sarah Gaither is on a quest to help.

An only child from a fairly rural community of 3,000 people on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon, she graduated with 130 people in her class. Both of her parents worked, so neighborhood kids were hired to babysit her.

“We were outside building forts and treehouses all the time. Even though I was an only child I was still interacting with a lot of other kids – learning how to share my toys and that the world didn’t revolve around me,” she said.

That lesson stuck and people close to her say she is a deeply loyal and dedicated friend.

She also carries that dedication into her work.

When Gaither first stepped into her leadership position with the Big Sky Community Food Bank six years ago, the food bank itself was facing pretty consistent pushback. People questioned why a food bank would be needed in this community. She said the network of nonprofits has done a fantastic job of communicating the needs of the people who live in the area – “people trying to make a living here.”

Essentials for working families, such as housing, food and childcare, are also startlingly expensive. There has been a sort of paradigm shift over the years – and she is grateful for that.

“There are people who need help in Big Sky and there are people who can help. It’s a much better conversation now that it was six years ago,” she said.

She wants to say thank you.

“Especially in this COVID time the community has been really supportive,” she said. “I haven’t had to struggle to get the support that we need. We’ve got food. We’ve got volunteers. Just a big thanks to everyone that has stepped-up to give during this time.”

She never anticipated a leadership role in a small community during such a pivotal time, but she is glad to help and happy to be a part of the community.

“I think it’s a really lovely community of people who really care about each other. I like the small town – where you know everyone, and the fact that people take such good care of each other is really inspiring,” she said.

A well-traveled adventurer, she fell in love in Alaska. “He was on his way for his job at the resort. When we graduated grad school, we decided we wanted to be ski bums for a minute and that minute has turned into eight years,” she said. Upon arriving in Big Sky, she worked for a year and a half at the resort and at Wildwood Nursery. Then, she saw the job with the food bank listed in the newspaper – and the rest is history.

Gaither secured her undergraduate degree in Sociology and went to graduate school in Portland to study education. Tenacious in her quest to be useful in this world, Gaither has also been helping refugees for years. “I've been working for an online group that teaches teachers how to teach refugee kids. I’ve been involved in education remotely. I’ve had two part time jobs until now. Now, with this COVID, [the food bank] is a fulltime job,” she said. She finds the support and generosity of neighbors helping neighbors in Big Sky inspirational.

“Plus, it’s really wonderful to be involved in such a good food network in Big Sky,” she said, noting grocery stores, area restaurants and Lindsie Hurlbut with the school district as being vitally important to the quest in making “sure we can get food to people.

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