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Putting together meals for hungry children is a cause that brings a lot of people together.

Some 400 volunteers showed up to the University Center Ballroom Friday for the second year of the University United Food Friday, hosted by United Way, the University of Montana and the Missoula Food Bank.

This year, they doubled the amount of prepackaged meals produced for donation, from 55,000 to 100,000.  

“We had such a big outpouring of support from local businesses,” said Andrea Vernon, the interim director for experiential learning and career success. “We have the space in the ballroom, we have the volunteer numbers and we have the fundraising, so we’re doubling it this year.”

The event prepackages 100,000 individual meals, in kits with six meals each, for the EmPower program, which gives meals to children to take home and make on the weekends, or over school holidays. Some meals will also go to the university’s new food bank, Vernon said.

Both meals are pasta — mac and cheese and tomato-basil — with protein powder and real dairy powders packaged with pasta.

“It’s a good way to provide nutritionally balanced meals,” Vernon said. “Kids who have food insecurity over the weekend, they can take home a backpack of food.”

The 400 volunteers were a mix of corporate groups and private individuals, who were grouped together at long assembly-line tables where they scooped and measured noodles, added protein and sauce powders, and vacuum-sealed the packages.

UM President Seth Bodnar, who helped start the Food Friday event as part of his "service-oriented inauguration," made an appearance with his wife Chelsea Bodnar to help package meals Friday. 

At one table, Margaret Harmon and Katie Schlichenmayer worked together measuring out cups of pasta.

Harmon and Schlichenmayer are on the UM golf team, and said they chose to work the event as part of their required volunteer hours for a few reasons, including accessibility of being right on campus, and the immediacy of their work.

“Most of these food drives are for kids in developing countries, but this one goes to people in the community,” Harmon said. “It feels really nice.”

The meals cost around $30,000, Vernon said, with funds donated by Wells Fargo, Providence Health and Services, and a private donor.

Randy Riley is the Wells Fargo district manager in Missoula, and he said they committed to helping after getting in on last year’s event a little late.

“Food security has long been part of our core mission,” Riley said. “It makes such a huge impact, so quickly.”

Wells Fargo Montana has donated some $700,000 around the state in the last year, he said, and is dedicated to getting their employees out to volunteer as often as possible. The Missoula Wells Fargo branches had just under 20 people at Friday’s event.

“This year, we actually had to pare down our volunteers,” Riley said.

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