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Essential Eats Distributors

Essential Eats Distributors volunteers relax after unloading hundreds of boxes of donated food and clothing at the Blackfeet Indian Reservation before Christmas 2017.

Photo provided by Sara Wecker

A holiday delivery of food to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation got an unexpected boost from last summer’s fire season.

The nonprofit Essential Eats Distributors provided 140 turkeys, six elk, 200 dozen eggs and thousands of pounds of other meat, vegetables and shelf-stable food to people in Browning, Heart Butte, Babb and Blackfoot just before Christmas. But they hadn’t planned for a donation of $70,000 worth of clothes, blankets and other soft goods from Xanterra Parks and Resorts.

“What happened is we had the fire this fall,” Xanterra Glacier Park Lodges General Manager Marc Ducharme said on Friday. “Once we were able to get back into the locations, we found there was a significant amount of retail merchandise with smoke damage. If it’s laundered once, it's basically brand-new again, but we chose to donate it to local charities and the Blackfeet Reservation in hopes it would go to good use over the holidays.”

The items came from the gift shops at Lake McDonald Lodge, which had to be evacuated in late August when the Sprague fire blanketed the area with palls of smoke. That fire also destroyed the dormitory of the historic Sperry Chalet in the mountains above the hotel complex.

Essential Eats grew out of a chance meeting last winter when some Missoula and Browning residents became aware that the Browning food bank network had unexpectedly shut down. They organized a convoy of food boxes gathered from Missoula and Flathead County and delivered it just before Christmas 2016.

The project applied for formal nonprofit status earlier this year, according to organizer Sara Wecker. It has set up a distribution system through area schools, the Blackfeet Tribal Council and even door-to-door contacts.

‘We get donations from a variety of areas,” Wecker said. “The St. Francis (Roman Catholic) Church in Missoula has a strong connection with their sister parish in Heart Butte. And we have some out-of-state connections. We get help from the Town Pump Foundation, and we work with the Glendale Hutterite Colony.”

Xanterra also contributed a delivery truck to haul the food and clothing over Marias Pass to the reservation. Blackfeet tribal organizations repackaged it into 383 boxes for households in need.

Wecker said Essential Eats is working on a monthly distribution schedule for 2018. Anyone wishing to donate or contribute can find contact information on EED’s website, or its Facebook page

Checks can be sent to: EED, 1139 Harrison, Missoula, MT, 59802, and are tax deductible.  

“Part of the problem with Blackfeet Nation is it’s so isolated,” Wecker said. “Glacier Park is its big neighbor, but Heart Butte is a community of 800 people that very few would ever see. We just hope some of these bridges can get brought together so people can be a little more independent.”

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.