The Missoula Food Bank is looking for a new home, a larger space for the growing number of people it serves.

“Our space is inadequate to be able to deliver services in a way that is in accordance with our values,” said Jessica Allred, community relations director, on Friday.

For more than 15 years, the Food Bank has been located at 219 S. Third St. W., and its space is too small to meet the growing number of people who pick up groceries there, she said. In the past three years, demand has increased 18.6 percent, and that’s on top of the 16 percent increase in 2008.

At this point, however, the Food Bank has not decided on a location, and it’s reaching out to the community to begin a process Allred said will be “incredibly transparent.” She said the Food Bank plans to have a dialogue with the community and consider ideas as it moves forward with the goal to move into a new space by 2016.

“Taking it to the community is just an extension of what we do here at the Food Bank,” she said. “It’s our community’s Food Bank, and we’ve always operated with the support of our community, and we hope to relocate with the support of our community.”

Missoula County Commissioner Bill Carey was the Food Bank’s director for a decade, and he said roughly 45 percent of the organization’s clients were children then, a figure that remained fairly constant from year to year. Today, wages aren’t keeping up with the cost of living, he said, and the nonprofit remains just as vital to the community.

“It would be wonderful if we didn’t need a Food Bank anymore, but they’re responding to the need historically that so many families are experiencing,” Carey said.

The current space is roughly 6,500 square feet, and the organization is looking for a building that offers at least 10,000 square feet, or 15,000 square feet if warehouse space is included, Allred said. Since it’s early in the process, it isn’t yet certain where a new facility should be located or how much it will cost, but the nonprofit plans to issue a request for proposals and consult with a professional.

“We’re really looking at a balance of what is most practical, what is most sustainable, and also what is most accessible to the people we are serving,” Allred said.

One thing already is clear, though, and that’s the need, she said:

n Last year, 16,943 unduplicated clients came through the doors of the Food Bank;

n 43 percent of those people came through just once;

n The Food Bank serves one in seven people in Missoula County; and

n All told, it counted 81,000 services provided last year.

The Food Bank owns the building at 219 S. Third St. W., it leases the one next door, and it also has a couple of warehouses off site, Allred said. At its current location on Third Street, the Food Bank has a grocery store, offices, a lobby, a gleaning area, a break area, a repack room, storage space and other areas of use.

Over the last 18 months, the board has looked at a variety of expansion possibilities, including remodeling at its current site, she said. The Third Street location won’t work, though, so the organization is reaching out to the community.

The Food Bank is part of the fabric of the community, she said, so it’s looking to the people of Missoula as it proceeds, including Food Bank volunteers, who number roughly 900 people a year and contribute 17,000 hours of services.

“They should have input, and we want their input,” Allred said.

Reach Keila Szpaller at @keilaszpaller, at keila.szpaller@missoulian.com or at (406) 523-5262.

Reporter for the Missoulian

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