Don Shattuck stacked a paper bag full of food into a cardboard box full of more food before hoisting the collection from the back of his sport utility vehicle Thursday afternoon.
Shattuck’s load slightly lightened his maroon Highlander – packed with plenty of food, ready to deliver – and abundantly brightened Carrie Ring’s day.
Ring stood waiting on the steps of her tidy home off Mullan Road, as she does the second Thursday of every month, waiting for Shattuck to arrive.
“Don is so sweet,” Ring said, as she led Shattuck up the stairs and into her kitchen, where he placed the food on the counter.
Ring is one of hundreds of seniors who receives a monthly supply of staples like cereal, milk, peanut butter and rice through Realizing Other Opportunities To Serve, a low-income food delivery service run by the Missoula Food Bank in partnership with the Montana Department of Health and Human Services.
Food bank officials have noticed an uptick in need in the senior community in recent years and are making a push this month to raise awareness in the community.
Volunteer driver Shattuck heads out from the food bank once a month with a vehicle full of food he delivers to seniors.
Shattuck’s delivery to Ring included juice, milk, pasta, a small bag of fruit and several quarts of milk.
“If it wasn’t for ROOTS and the volunteers, well, I get $100 for food stamps – $100 is used up with the basics,” said Ring, sitting at her kitchen table with Shattuck. “If I had to eat on $100 a month, it would be very difficult. And I don’t buy anything that’s not on sale.”
Before drivers like Shattuck make their rounds, food bank staff and volunteers fill hundreds of brown paper bags and boxes with staples.
This week, bottles of juice and boxes of pasta sat outside in the pleasant fall air as volunteer drivers packed the wares into their vehicles. The sun often shines on the ROOTS crews as they do their good work, said driver Rita Cheek.
“Rarely do we have rain,” said Cheek, who has long volunteered at the food bank and has driven a ROOTS route for two years.
Shattuck has driven a ROOTS route for almost as long. A longtime real estate appraiser, Shattuck and his wife retired to Missoula from California several years ago. They settled out on Mullan Road, near where Shattuck’s route takes him.
He stocked shelves at the food bank and interviewed walk-in clients before he became a ROOTS driver.
“We’ve always tried to give back – money is one thing, but time is what is a big deal,” said Shattuck, whose route takes about two hours. He pays for the gas to get the food to clients.
The ROOTS clients on Shattuck’s route mostly are single women, but also include one single man and one married couple.
On Thursday, a new client was added to the list, another single woman who needed the boost the staples provide.
Shattuck himself has seen need increase in the past year, both among walk-in senior clients and those who need help through ROOTS.
Food bank numbers show that the number of senior clients has increased since 2008. The ROOTS program distributed 4,508 food packages through the program in 2011 and is currently serving 329 clients.
“What surprises me or did surprise me, is the diversity of the clients,” Shattuck said. “There are a lot of folks over 60 that are just having a hard time; you wouldn’t know it by looking at their place.”
For Ring, Shattuck’s monthly visit supplies both food and friendship.
On Thursday, Shattuck sat with Ring after bringing in the food, checking in with her.
Ring has just come through a particularly hard year. She lost both her husband and loving walking companion, a big dog named Beau. She’s been recovering from cataract surgery recently and said her back has been aching.
“Some days it does and some days it doesn’t,” she said.
Ring, 66, can’t always make it to the store, but she can cook.
“I made an oatmeal chocolate cake last week,” Ring said, noting that an extra dab of peanut butter in the recipe made it delicious.
She doesn’t eat out and she doesn’t waste. The cheese she got from ROOTS could be made into cheesy bread – just like her mom made for the family when Ring was growing up in Arkansas. Dinner Thursday night was a chicken breast and stuffing – made from a box of dressing ROOTS delivered to her almost a year ago.
Ring requested that peanut butter be included in her next ROOTS delivery.
“I’d love that,” Ring said before describing the peanut sauce she’d like to make. “You add water, corn starch, a glob of peanut butter.”
It goes great with stir-fried vegetables and rice, she said.
Ring said repeatedly during Shattuck’s visit how much she appreciates what he brings her through ROOTS.
She wants more seniors on fixed incomes to know about ROOTS.
“Their food is just so nutritious and it’s very supplemental. Like I said – I can’t express it enough – without the extras, I wouldn’t make it and I’m so grateful for it,” Ring said. “When I see a box of cheese or a can of beans, some people might turn their noses up at it, but I wouldn’t replace it.”
Reporter Jenna Cederberg can be reached at 523-5241 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.