Demand at the Missoula Food Bank has continued to grow this year. It jumped 10 percent since June alone.

There's no doubt that tough times continue to affect many Missoulians, but the generosity of others in the community can help make sure everyone makes it through the holidays without hunger.

That message helped the Missoula Food Bank kick off its 26th annual holiday food drive Tuesday, as employees, board members and supporters gathered among pallets of Mrs. Cubbison's seasoned stuffing to talk about need in the community and how residents can help end hunger here.

The remarkable thing about Missoula, all who spoke Tuesday said, is that the generosity has grown with the demand.

"Obviously, the demand is so great, that's the downside. The upside is the community keeps giving. I feel like the food bank is really on the community's radar," said Ann Andre, who helped found the holiday food drive 26 years ago while working at the Missoulian.

It's become a tradition in Andre's family to fill a holiday brown paper bag and donate, something that helped bring in around 800,000 pounds of food to the food bank in 2010.

The holiday food drive began Tuesday as more than 30,000 brown bags were inserted into Missoulian newspapers. Those bags arrived on doorsteps across the area and can be filled with nonperishable food items and dropped off at one of 15 locations across the area. Monetary donations are also accepted. The drive will continue through Dec. 23.

The food bank's goal is to raise $175,000 and 75,000 pounds of food.

The holiday food drive is crucial time in the organization's continual drive to nourish Missoula.

"It's a special time of year when people stop to think about how grateful they are," and the willingness to share means a happier holiday to follow residents in need, said food bank board president Linda Brown.

The Missoula Food Bank is entering its 30th year serving the community. During its first year, clients were served out of the back of a car trunk. Last year, 50,000 clients were served in the facility on Third Street.

Food bank employees read letters during the event Tuesday from clients expressing the gratitude not only for the food, but for the comfortable and warm feeling provided at the food bank.

"Charlie," a young Missoulian whose family has at times had to depend on the food bank's services, wrote to thank the organization for having his class there on a field trip.

"I think it is good my class can know that the food bank is not bad, and I do not have to be embarrassed to come there," Charlie wrote. "My favorite part is when sometimes we get to pick a treat. We don't ever get treats, except for at school sometimes."

Missoula County Commissioner Bill Carey was the food bank's executive director when the holiday food drive began. He spoke Tuesday on the importance of the services provided there.

"It's one of the places, entities, I think that makes Missoula a great place to live in," Carey said. "I'm confident it will be successful this year."

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