You may have already noticed that today's Missoulian includes a folded grocery bag. As we have in years past, the Missoulian is once again hoping our generous readers will find it in your hearts to fill these bags as best you can, and drop it off at any of the locations listed on the outside of the bag.
We are hoping you'll spare some unopened jars of peanut butter and jelly, which will allow a parent to make her children's favorite lunch. We're hoping some kind readers will donate cans of tuna, chicken, vegetables and a couple of packages of noodles, and know someone will have everything they need to make a satisfying soup. Indeed, cans of heat-and-eat soups and chili would be welcome by all.
Whatever non-perishable foods go into these bags, all will be taken to the Missoula Food Bank, which is once again conducting its annual Holiday Food Drive to help feed families in need this winter.
Last year, food banks like Missoula's helped feed one in seven Montanans, according to the Montana Food Bank Network's latest report. The study, "Hungry in Montana," tallied nearly 140,000 different food bank visitors who made more than 1.15 million total visits in 2013.
That number actually represents a promising decrease in the number of individual clients seeking help from a Montana food bank. The highest number came in 2010, a tough year for 192,000 clients who visited a food bank. Fortunately, the number of clients has been slowly but steadily declining since then.
But 140,000 hungry Montanans still need your help.
The survey found that the No. 1 reason most clients turn to a food bank is because they have insufficient incomes; meanwhile, the price of food, fuel and other necessities is rising. Also, health care and housing costs took a big bite out of many households' limited budgets.
And even though of those households surveyed, 37 percent included at least one working member, nearly one-third of the respondents reported incomes of less than half the federal poverty level. Saddest of all: Families with children and those living on reservations had the highest poverty levels.
Many of these families cope by skipping meals. Almost half of the clients in the survey said that the adults in their households regularly missed a meal. But other families make ends meet - after the rent is paid and the tank is filled - by visiting a food bank.
The social problems that create a situation in which so many of our fellow Montanans live in poverty aren't the kind that can be resolved quickly or easily. The solution involves affordable housing, affordable health care and wages that can provide at least the basic necessities of life for a hardworking family.
But today, we can start with something as simple as sharing a bag of groceries. In doing so, we can give our neighbors something that lasts far longer than a full belly. We can give them hope.