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A Wal-Mart Foundation grant will help the Montana Food Bank Network fight childhood hunger by providing better access to food this summer.

The network's "Back Pack" and summer outreach programs are the recipients of the $65,099 foundation grant.

Kathryn McCleerey, MFBN's chief development officer, said the network has been struggling for funding in recent years and is thankful for the new grant. McCleerey said Montana's lagging economy and recent flooding across the state have greatly increased the demand for its services.

The Back Pack program provides backpacks of food to impoverished children during times of the year when they are away from vital school lunch and breakfast programs.

Backpacks are filled with easily opened, nonperishable foods like juice, fruit and cereal. The foods require no cooking when parents are unavailable to help.

McCleerey said hungry children returning from weekends and extended school breaks have great trouble concentrating and performing well in school.

More than 9,000 backpacks will be distributed across the state this summer.

The remaining grant money will be used to increase community outreach and to distribute fliers to almost 200 summer food sites throughout the state.

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AmeriCorps volunteers will also assist in MFBN outreach efforts by organizing activities such as sports, arts and crafts and reading with the goal of increasing participation in network food-distribution efforts.

MFBN provides food to 198 hunger relief agencies throughout the state. The group also advocates for governmental change that will help eliminate hunger. Half of MFBN's funding comes from the public.

And McCleerey is very appreciative of the help folks have provided during tough economic times.

"We really need our friends at this time," said McCleerey. "People really are stepping up and showing themselves to be true friends and true friends of the needy."

To learn more about Montana Food Bank Network, its programs, or ways you can help, call McCleerey at 721-3825 Ext. 244 or visit www.mfbn.org.

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