The Missoula Food Bank has unveiled designs for the brand new two-story, 22,500-square-foot headquarters the nonprofit expects to have completed by this time next year. A groundbreaking ceremony for the $4.5-million facility will be Saturday at 11:30 a.m. at the new location, the corner of Wyoming and Catlin streets.

“We are extremely excited about it,” said Aaron Brock, executive director of the Food Bank. “Our overarching goal is to create a building that is functional, welcoming and helps us provide a dignified service to those who need it.”

The new home will include space for nutritional classrooms and a partnership with the University of Montana’s spectrUM Discovery Area, which is a hands-on science museum geared toward kids. The new site also will have 42 dedicated parking spots, whereas the old spot had basically no off-street parking.

From the currently cramped home on South Third Street, the Food Bank saw 18,414 separate individuals walk through the doors in 2015, roughly one in every six residents of the county. The design of the new Food Bank and the imminent construction is the culmination of years of hard work and battling the constraints of the current site, Brock said.

“We are so limited in our current space just to provide the basic programs that we do,” he explained. “Just providing groceries to those who need them requires duct tape and a can-do attitude every day. We are going to be able to better do that in our new facility. We’ll be able to serve more folks and eliminate some of the long waits.”

The current building’s tight confines create natural “pinch points” that cause frustration and lead people on busy schedules to go hungry some weeks, Brock said.

“Every single week there are families who walk out our doors without food because they had to wait too long,” he said. “We have sometimes 50 families waiting in line. Recently, a family left early because the mom had to get to her job. They didn’t even get the groceries they came to get. That breaks all of our hearts. We can’t be OK with that. We need a space that provides services to those that need it. So we really intentionally designed the new space to serve more people concurrently and reduce wait time.”

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Brock pointed out that while people may look at the high construction costs and think that they’re building a high-end, $200-per-square-foot building, the reality is that the costs include several factors.

“That $4.5-million number includes a lot of expense in freezer and refrigerator equipment,” he explained. “There is also a fair amount of expense in the spectrUM partnership, but there is funding available to specifically help with that piece of the building.”

The Food Bank’s Board of Directors has voted to contribute about $1.1 million to the new building, and the organization is anticipating about $1 million in new markets tax credits from the Montana Community Development Corporation. In a capital campaign that started in October, the nonprofit also raised around $3 million from private donors.

“The outpouring of support from friends and neighbors in this community has been incredible,” Brock said. “On Saturday we will kick off the public phase to raise the remaining half-million dollars. We are asking people to consider giving, whether it’s $10,000 or $10, to make this a reality. There is a funding gap. We have designed a ‘plan B’ if the bottom drops out, but at the same time we’re very confident that the community will step forward in this way that they have so many times before.”

The total cost of preparing the new site and moving buildings is around $6 million.

Rick Wishcamper, the co-chair of the One in Six Missoula capital campaign, said he feels optimistic that the public will step up and donate to complete the project.

"I'm entirely confident that it's going to be successful," he said. "The private campaign was awesome, particularly in how fast we raised the $3 million. People have been incredibly responsive and supportive."

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The new space will be geared toward erasing the stigma that comes with going to a public place for food assistance, Brock said.

“No one comes to a food bank for fun,” he explained. “People come because they need a service that we provide. We are excited about a nice place that is going to let us go deeper as far as our programs. We are going to offer cooking and nutrition classes, and we’ll have a designated child nutrition space. We’ll offer summer lunchtime programs and snack programs. We will invite folks and work to break down the barriers of stigma.”

Brock said the goal is to make sure people don’t feel embarrassed about having to get snacks for kids because there isn’t anything in the fridge at home.

“We want to create a space that is fun and where there is no stigma,” he said. “We want to create a place where a kid wants to come there after school when they need a healthy snack or whether they just want to play for 20 minutes. Especially for young people, our goal is to create a space where stigma is less of a part of the equation than it has been in the past.”

More than 65 percent of visitors came in just three times or fewer last year.

“Almost 40 percent came in just once,” Brock said. “These are individuals or families on a tight budget, but they’re making it, and then an event happens. There is a temporary job loss or the car breaks down. As they are digging out of that hole, they walk through the doors so their kids get to eat dinner or breakfast before going to school. The vast majority of folks do get their feet underneath them, and we are just a stopgap measure.”

The celebration on Saturday will feature volunteers sharing their memories of the old building as well as new neighbors talking about the relocation. There will be light snacks, beer and live music. For more information visit the Missoula Food Bank Facebook page.

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