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Missoula Food Bank kicks off holiday fundraiser amid rising costs, increased visits

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With inflation driving up the cost of living and cold weather setting in, the Missoula Food Bank and Community Center is seeking a record amount of money this year for their 37th annual Holiday Drive fundraiser.

“Our Holiday Drive is our most important drive of the year,” said Rebecca Paquette, the organization’s data and development manager. “The success of this drive ensures we can purchase all of the foods needed to keep our shelves stocked and to meet the unique needs of kids and seniors facing food insecurity. We could not do this work without the generosity of this community.”

The goal of $325,000 is an increase over past years, according to executive director Amy Allison Thompson, and reflects the increase in need for emergency food assistance in the county along with rising food costs.

“Many of the families who visit our food bank have never needed emergency food assistance before but are feeling the squeeze of high costs in every area of their lives,” she said. People who never thought they wouldn't be able to afford groceries are suddenly finding themselves in that predicament.

“These customers often earn too much to qualify for government assistance programs and with very few places to turn," Allison Thompson continued. "We know that we’re not alone in noticing rising costs, but this season of high prices stands to most severely affect our most vulnerable neighbors.”

She said that hundreds of households have recently visited the nonprofit food bank for the very first time. That’s a sign that things are worse than ever.

“Many families previously making ends meet have been destabilized,” Allison Thompson explained. “We are grateful for the opportunity to be there for a family, during what can be one the most difficult times in their lives, because of the generosity of this community.”

The money raised during the fundraiser will support direct nutrition programs that help 1 in 4 county residents, Allison Thompson said, which is an all-time high in the organization’s 40-year history.

The nonprofit operates a program it calls the "store," which is an emergency food pantry where any family experiencing food insecurity can access healthy groceries for the household. Unlike the traditional “box model" many pantries embrace, the Missoula Food Bank allows customers to “shop" (for free) for anything they want much like a for-profit grocery store. Meat, pantry staples, deli items and fresh produce are available.

Many people in the community are just one setback away from not being able to afford groceries, according to Gregg Asciutto, the organization’s purchasing and warehouse manager.

“Our customers have unique and shared backgrounds,” he said. “Working families, aging adults, and everyday people who struggle to continue to afford to live in this community. One incidental or unplanned expense like a vehicle repair or a trip to the emergency room is enough to leave our neighbors deciding between basic needs like food and medication.”

This year, the organization has served more county residents than any year in its history, with nearly a third of services responding to childhood food insecurity. Volunteers make prepared meals for kids during out-of-school times including holiday breaks, after-school and summer. Every weekend, about 1,100 kids get packs of food so they don’t experience chronic hunger while away from school meals. The Food Bank also manages two monthly food delivery programs for roughly 500 seniors who can’t drive or get to the headquarters at 1720 Wyoming Street.

Winter always means more clients.

“The colder, winter months are among the busiest at the Food Bank,” said service team manager Caitlyn Taix. “As we bag the groceries of our customers, we hear stories about the precarious tightrope our neighbors walk. An early winter can mean the loss of anticipated seasonal work, a child’s growth spurt could necessitate a new winter coat, and Montana’s cold winters comes with an increase in utility costs."

These setbacks are always sudden and unexpected.

"These factors are almost always out of any one family’s control and can be devastating," Taix said.

The fundraiser runs from Dec. 1–31. All donations are tax deductible. Gifts can be made online at missoulafoodbank.org, by mail to 1720 Wyoming Street, Missoula, MT 59801, or in person at the same address.

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