Food insecurity hits families in Montana hardest during the holiday months. One of Missoula's largest charitable organizations is doing what it can to help.
The Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation announced Friday that it will donate $201,500 to 73 food banks, pantries, rescue missions and homeless shelters across Montana this holiday season.
"We looked at the economy and saw that there are many, many families that are still struggling with having enough food to feed themselves," said Mike Halligan, executive director of the foundation.
In particular, he said, when choosing the food banks and shelters to donate to, the foundation looked for smaller organizations in more rural areas of the state that often have a difficult time raising donations, especially around the holidays.
"As a foundation, the goal since the very beginning has been to help vulnerable populations succeed," Halligan said.
According to nationwide data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a family is considered food insecure, meaning it is unable to afford enough food to feed its members and is at risk of hunger, if the family makes less than 185 percent of the federal poverty line. In 2014, 14 percent of all households nationwide were food insecure, an increase of about 2 percentage points over the past decade.
Last year 335,092 people in Montana were in families that made less than 185 percent of the poverty level. According to the foundation, more than 89,000 of those were children and 45,000 were seniors.
The Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation is funded by the corporations that make up The Washington Companies, including Montana Rail Link, Montana Resources, Envirocon and Seaspan, as well as donations from the Washington family. According to the foundation, it has given more than $199 million to charitable causes since it was started in 1988.
The foundation gave a similar holiday donation to Montana food banks and shelters in 2014.
On Saturday, during the Brawl of the Wild state rivalry football game, Missoula was announced as the winner of Can the Bobcats/Can the Griz, the 16th annual food drive competition between Missoula and Bozeman.
Missoula brought in more than 196,000 pounds of food and more than $85,000 in donations for the Missoula Food Bank during the two-week drive, while Bozeman gathered more than 194,000 pounds of food and more than $65,000. The Missoula Food Bank has scheduled its annual Thanksgiving meal turkey distribution Monday and Tuesday at the Missoula County Fairgrounds.