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It’s one of the best things Missoula has going for it, and that’s a good thing this year.

Missoula Food Bank’s monthlong holiday food drive has been an annual outreach since the food bank's quarters were over by the tracks on West Alder in 1986.

The 33rd edition got underway Saturday, Dec. 1, five days after its busiest day on record. On Nov. 26, the Monday after the long Thanksgiving weekend, a whopping 289 households received food provided by donations from the Missoula community.

“By the end of the day we were pretty beat up on perishable goods, the things we rescue in the morning from grocery stores like meat and milk and eggs,” executive director Aaron Brock said.

Brock doesn’t envision another day like that in the immediate future. But he said, “Numbers that stunned us two years ago are just commonplace now, so it’s entirely possible. Two hundred eighty-nine families is a huge number but 220 families in a single day doesn’t surprise us at all anymore.”

The growth industry that the Food Bank doesn’t want to be continues to be just that.

Increased demand at the new, more spacious store at 1720 Wyoming St. reflects the growing need for contributions, most effectively in the form of cash.

Last year the goal was $225,000 raised in December, and Missoulians came through with almost $231,000. Now that bar is raised to $250,000.

“Our goals for food have stayed the same (55,000 pounds, or 27½ tons) but we have stretched our fundraising goal … because the quantity of food that we are purchasing has increased dramatically,” Brock said, adding that the food bank has 15 full-time staffers and some 450 regular volunteers.

“We take seriously the understanding that we will never food bank our way to the end of hunger,” Brock said in a press release. “We also, though, understand that there are families who without our help would be sending their kids to bed hungry tonight.

“These two goals are not conflicting. While we work on the upstream issues, addressing change that will result in fewer people through our doors in the future, it is important to us that every child has enough to eat, that seniors are aging with nutritious food in the house, and that people in our workforce and neighborhoods are not going hungry.”

Wednesday, Dec. 5, is a special day for the holiday drive.

For the third year, Jackson Contractor Group, which built the new store, is offering a $10,000 matching contribution for all donations made that day at the food bank or online at www.missoulafoodbank.org.

There are a couple of changes this year, one to raise money and one to save it. In the latter case, the Food Bank is discontinuing its tradition of inserting paper grocery bags into the Missoulian.

“It’s a super-tangible reminder of the drive, but since our need is really focusing on the growth of cash, we’re trying something new,” said Jessica Allred, Missoula Food Bank development director.

Counting shipping, the grocery bags cost a couple thousand dollars and a bunch of volunteer hours folding them for the newspaper.

For the first time, Food Bank volunteers will be wrapping gifts at Southgate Mall. They’ll be on hand most days, including Thursday through Sunday this week and every day starting Thursday, Dec. 13, through Christmas Eve.

“It’s another thing that helps us meet our need, and we have a few volunteers who are really, really excited about it, so that made it easy to say yes,” Brock said, adding, “They’re people who are better at wrapping things than I am.”

All proceeds will again go to the food bank from the fourth annual Jeanne Auen Memorial Jewelry Sale on Friday, Dec. 7, at Bathing Beauties Bead Shop, 501 S. Higgins Ave. on the Hip Strip. The food bank will have a booth at the Missoula Holiday MADE Fair at the Adams Center on Sunday, Dec. 9, with recipe packs appropriately called “Stocking Stuffers to Stock Our Shelves.”

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Mineral County, veterans issues

Outlying communities, transportation, history and general assignment reporter at the Missoulian