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John Ruskin said in 1867, "The first duty of government is to see that people have food, fuel and clothes. The second, that they have means of moral and intellectual education." In 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson said, "The challenge of the next half- century is whether we have the wisdom to use our wealth to enrich and elevate our national life and to advance the quality of American civilization."

While some small strides have been made, everyone's basic needs are not being met.

The need for food for the homeless individuals and families and low-income families in the Missoula area is an ongoing and increasing problem. This problem exists not only in Missoula, but also in local surrounding communities. In many cases it falls on the local churches to help where possible. In the smaller towns though, the options for finding food are more limited than in larger communities.

Fortunately, a few towns and individuals have stepped forward to form their own food pantries in order to assist the poor. Recently, I attended the Open House at Pantry Partners in Stevensville.

The president of Pantry Partners is Kathy Belke and I had the opportunity to meet her in January in Florence at a program I presented to the middle school. Pantry Partners and the Poverello Center were the recipients of a fund-raiser conducted by the students. Subsequently, Kathy and former Sen. George McGovern visited the Poverello Center and reviewed what we do and how we do it. It was my turn to return the favor.

Pantry Partners began its work in 1989. The area that they cover is the northern Ravalli County. During 2002, it helped 1,321 families for a total of 4,598 people served. They averaged 102 families per month. Fortunately, Pantry Partners had 490 volunteers last year, contributing 7,052 hours to make it all possible.

The facility is leased from the Stevensville School System at a favorable rate. This, of course, increases the operational efficiency providing the greatest level of support to clients. Because of the generosity of the townspeople, many families are receiving assistance to help make their lives a little less stressful.

But we need many more of these pantries to ensure that more families basic needs are being met.

Proverbs 29:18 reads, "Where there is no vision, the people perish." Pantry Partners has a vision and we need many more individuals and organizations to share that vision if we are ever to make a substantial change in the level of hunger that exists in our community.

Joseph Bischof is the executive director of Poverello Center Inc. Reach him by calling 728-1809 or e-mailing jabischof@hotmail.com

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