Step No. 1 is having food to distribute, and that’s where you come in.
The brown paper bag in Tuesday’s Missoulian is for the start of the Missoula Food Bank’s annual holiday food drive.
If you can put some nonperishable groceries in it and return it to one of the many drop-off locations, it’d be much appreciated by people who might otherwise go hungry over Christmas.
Step No. 2 is making sure the people who need it get it – not just in December, but year-round.
To that end, the food bank is in the middle of a countywide needs assessment, and already learning a lot.
Transportation challenges are often a barrier, it turns out.
“I am disabled and can’t carry extremely heavy bags by myself,” one person wrote on their questionnaire. “It is hard to carry heavy stuff to the bus stop very often and get on a bus with a lot of food with no help.”
The food bank’s hours – 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 5 to 7 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays – don’t work well for some people.
Some don’t use it as often as they might because they figure there are folks in worse shape than they are. Others say they’re just too embarrassed to go in.
All of this comes as the need has climbed 8 percent over last year, according to Jessica Allred, community relations director at the Missoula Food Bank, and federal funding for the Emergency Foods Assistance Program, or TEFAP, has been slashed by 68 percent.
The goal of the holiday food drive is to collect 75,000 pounds of food and $175,000 in donations.
Allred says older Missoulians are the fastest-growing recipients of food from the food bank, and a third of those fed remain children.
“Demographically, the senior population is outpacing the need of any age group,” she says, “but one in three of the people we serve are still children.”
Back to the bag.
While all nonperishable foods are welcome, Allred says peanut butter and canned tuna, salmon, chicken and fruit are probably most welcomed, because they are most needed.
“I mention the canned fruit, because we get less canned fruit than we do canned vegetables,” she says.
Frozen meats also are in high demand, especially because of the cuts in TEFAP funding, although the meats obviously can’t be put in the bag and left to thaw at a drop-off location. Allred notes the food bank also can accept wild game that has been prepared by a commercial processor.
Frozen meats have to go directly to the food bank. The bags with nonperishable items can be turned in at the food bank, or dropped off at the Missoulian, all local fire stations, all First Security Bank locations as well as at many local grocery stores.
Don’t have time to fill a bag out of your own cupboard? Rosauers has pre-bagged and needed nonperishable items you can grab while doing your own shopping, pay $10 for when you check out and leave there to donate to the food bank.
Last year, the Missoula Food Bank distributed 1.2 million pounds of donated food. Each day, it “rescues” food from local grocery stores that the stores have to get rid of, but is still safe and usable. Its Food Circle program collected another 15,000 pounds of food from local restaurants and caterers that had been prepared but not used, and that was placed in TV dinner-style containers and frozen for future use by individuals.
It’s become a major undertaking since a group of Missoulians banded together in December 1982 to help find food to feed their neighbors who couldn’t afford to buy it.
“Yes, it’s our 30th anniversary,” Allred says, “and we’re very grateful people have continued to support us for three decades.”
Among the comments seen coming back on the needs assessment forms are ones like these:
• “Love the free turkey – would not have had a Thanksgiving without it this year.”
• “I have visited your food bank and the church one by the welfare office. Both are absolutely wonderful, but the times open are often difficult to hit. I really like how you shop around with a cart and all at yours, it feels more like normal.”
• “It’s great to have the food bank in Missoula. It has helped our family many times over the years. We got my daughter’s first birthday cake there and many other splurges we normally don’t get.”
Another woman said the food bank did more than feed her after her husband died and she “became increasingly disabled and isolated.” It also set an example for her, she said, and she hopes to one day recover from her several surgeries to be able to volunteer there.
The Missoula Food Bank already plans to open from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursdays, an addition to its other hours, starting in January to make itself more available to people.
Last year, the food bank served 16,069 “unduplicated” individuals a total of 63,793 times, according to Allred.
“Forty-two percent only use it one time,” she added, “so it really is a safety net for people on hard times.”
The holidays can be especially pressing for lots of people, especially parents trying to give their kids a Christmas. If you want to help keep them fed, there’s a paper bag in Tuesday’s newspaper to make it all the more convenient.
Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.