Missoula Food Bank seeks more donations as holiday drive lags

2011-12-20T22:00:00Z 2011-12-20T22:24:35Z Missoula Food Bank seeks more donations as holiday drive lagsBy KEILA SZPALLER of the Missoulian missoulian.com
December 20, 2011 10:00 pm  • 

Turkeys are in stock, but peanut butter is in short supply at the Missoula Food Bank.

On Tuesday, the nonprofit was behind $100,000 and an estimated 50,000 pounds of food for its 26th annual holiday food drive goal.

"This is certainly the first time we've been this far away from our goal this close to Christmas," said Jessica Allred, community relations director for the Missoula Food Bank.

Some donations are still slated to come in the door by Friday, but to make sure the food bank's shelves stay full, Allred said the organization is extending its food drive through Dec. 30. The drive usually ends on Dec. 24.

Demand has crept up again in 2011, and the food bank will give out an estimated 8 percent to 9 percent more groceries than it did in 2010. But Allred said there's a couple bright spots, too.

For one thing, the community responded with such overwhelming generosity to the call for Thanksgiving turkeys that the nonprofit is able to give out some birds for the holidays, a rare offering. And the quality of food coming in the door is rising, too, a phenomenon she said reflects the values of Missoulians.

"People are very conscientious, and as people think of what they're eating, they're also thinking about what they're donating and what they're giving for other families to eat," said Allred, who said she's grateful people are spending more on nutritious items.

Donors are providing brown rice, whole grain pastas, tuna fish and peanut butter. Allred said food children can prepare by themselves is important, as are meals that don't require a full kitchen to put together.

She suggested items such as cans of hearty soups, canned meats, and also pop tops that are easy to open. Another staple is peanut butter because it's full of protein and easy for kids to eat. Last year, the food bank served some 5,000 kids, and in one year, the food bank buys some 23,000 jars of the staple spread.

"We send every family out with peanut butter," Allred said.

Because it can buy food in bulk, by the pallet, the food bank is able to stretch cash donations a long ways. But Allred said donating actual food instead of cash is a good lesson for younger folks, too.

"It's a really tangible way to teach community and to help kids who may not be exposed to the fact that some kids in our community don't have enough," she said.

In some other communities, food banks have had to cut back on the amount of food they give away. Last year, the Missoula Food Bank provided 60,000 "services," each essentially three days of groceries for one person or child. She said the nonprofit is still able to provide for people at the same caloric level, but it isn't buying everything, either.

"We didn't buy cheese last month because it was just too expensive," she said.

Everyone gets milk, though.

As it approaches the end of its holiday drive, the nonprofit is asking the community to "consider giving the gift of nourishment this holiday season." Allred said she's thankful to the community because people always respond to need at the food bank.

And the need is great, said executive director Cynthia Lotty in a news release: "This year has been challenging for many of our neighbors. We see that firsthand here at Missoula Food Bank. We are thankful to the community for their support thus far in this drive and hope to see the local generosity continue in the final days."

Reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at @KeilaSzpaller, 523-5262, keila.szpaller@missoulian.com or on MissoulaRedTape.com.

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