Energy efficiency upgrade transforms rural foodbank

Susan didn't know what to expect.

She drove and parked in front of the modest brick building three times, each time driving away, stopping herself from entering the small white door of the Kettle Falls Community Chest food bank.

She had been laid off from her job of 28 years. With rising medical debt and no more savings, she had nowhere to go and no one to turn to. It took over a year before she mustered enough courage to walk in and ask for the help she desperately needed.

"I was so ashamed," said Susan. "I kept thinking, 'Do I really have to do this? Have we really fallen to this level?' It got so bad we couldn't make it work anymore.”

Inside the Kettle Falls Community Chest, Susan found a lifeline. The day she walked through the door, she received enough food to get her family through the month and improve their failing health. She's been going every month for the last three years.

"If I had known, I would have gone sooner," said Susan. "The volunteers are so kind and helpful."

Susan is one of 160 families that rely on the food bank every month. The Kettle Falls food bank has provided food to thousands of people in the small community and surrounding towns since 1982.

Outgrowing its former location, the food bank moved into its current facility in 2006. A friend of a former director offered the 1950s building on a rent-to-own basis, but it was in rough shape.

"It was completely gutted," said Kettle Falls Community Chest Board President David Keeley. "It had cinder block walls with no insulation, drywall was missing, and there was an open ceiling. There was water damage from a leaky roof."

Community Chest Director Tina Rubio did her best to improve the environment, but lack of funding prevented any major renovation.

"Part of my job is ensuring the money goes to the proper place. Remodels aren't considered a priority," said Tina. "When I first took over, they only had two lights. One of our clients donated a bunch of six-foot fluorescent shop lights that we hung from the rafters using extension cords."

For over eighteen years, volunteers served the needs of its community four days a week in the dilapidated structure. During the winter, they gathered around portable heaters, attempting to stay warm.

Help arrived in 2020 when Lorri Kirstein, Energy Efficiency Program Manager at Avista, contacted the foodbank through the company’s Small Business Partner Program (BPP). The BPP caters to the needs of Avista small business customers on rate schedules 11 and 12 in Washington and Idaho. It offers personalized project bids, money-saving rebate insights, and direct connections to qualified contractors who can assist.

Lorri worked with the Kettle Falls Community Chest for over three years to find funding solutions for the growing food bank.

“We went out and realized there was a lot of need in this particular building,” said Lorri. “We started working with them on energy efficiency upgrades. I sent one of my program’s general contractors, Corey Bryant of Bryant Building and Energy, and he made a full bid for the food bank in 2021. They used his bid to secure a USDA loan and grant to cover part of the costs."

In addition to the federal funding, Avista supported the extensive project with a Named Communities Investment Fund (NCIF) grant and its energy efficiency rebate and incentive programs.

Over four months, the 2,640-square-foot facility underwent a complete transformation. The bare walls were furred out to accommodate energy efficiency upgrades, including insulation. The ceiling was finished, and insulation and LED lighting were installed. A loading dock was added to the back of the building, providing more accessible product transport. The renovation is projected to save 10,405 kilowatt-hours annually in energy costs. Saving on energy means being able to direct even more resources toward serving the hundreds of families who rely on the rural Washington food bank.

"I am grateful for Avista and the other donors that made this project possible," said Susan. "When we come to such a bright, clean, cheery place with kind volunteers, it restores some sense of dignity."

Avista's Named Communities Investment Fund (NCIF) was approved by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission as part of the company's Clean Energy Implementation Plan (CEIP) to meet compliance targets for the state's Clean Energy Transformation Act (CETA, 2019). The NCIF will invest up to $5 million annually in projects, programs, and initiatives that benefit Avista's Washington electric customers residing in historically disadvantaged and vulnerable communities (i.e., "Named Communities"). Community-based projects will be selected for funding through a competitive grant application process. Application information and eligibility guidelines can be found at     

For more information about how Avista can help small businesses with energy efficiency upgrades, visit

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  1. Community
  2. Energy Saving