MISSOULA — The Missoula Food Bank & Community Center’s 35th Annual Holiday Drive met its fundraising goal this week, helping cull the growing increase of food insecurity tied to the pandemic.
The food bank sought to raise $250,000 for this year’s holiday drive by the end of December. This year will mark the earliest year that the goal was achieved.
“We are wildly excited and grateful and humble to say that today – so much earlier than we’ve ever made our holiday drive goal – we have met our goal as of today,” said Jessica Allred, the director of development and advocacy at the Missoula Food Bank & Community Center.
Coming at the tail end of another significant food drive – the Can the Cats Canned Food Drive – the holiday drive is the food bank’s biggest and most important fundraiser of the year.
“Between those two drives is when our warehouse and our bank accounts hopefully, ever year, fill up and give us a boost going into the next calendar year,” said Aaron Brock, the executive director of the food bank.
The holiday drive, each year, normally raises around one-third of the individual donations that are needed to keep the operation running throughout the year.
But like other anti-hunger and anti-poverty organizations across the country, the Missoula Food Bank & Community Center has had one of the busiest years in their organization’s history.
“In October of this year, we served 11,500 separate individuals just in our store. That’s unprecedented. That’s the busiest month in our organizational history,” Brock said.
When the food bank moved to its new location on Wyoming street in 2017, the organization served about one out of every six people who calls Missoula home.
This year, with the coronavirus pandemic and its corresponding economic repercussions, one in every four people living in Missoula visited the food bank – around a 20% increase.
By the time the year is over, more than 30,000 separate individuals will have walked through the food bank’s doors.
“In the first month after the pandemic hit Missoula, so that like mid-March to mid-April period, we saw 500 families that we’d never seen before,” Brock said.
While it has been a year of unprecedent need, the Missoula community has stepped up to help.
“One thing I’m really proud of is the way this community has rallied around us with generosity,” Brock said.
The financial sustainability of the food bank relies on small gifts and donations of community members giving what they can. The average gift at the food bank is less than a hundred dollars.
Overall, it is many different people who just contribute what they can.
Yet, the issue of food insecurity has continued to be a growing problem in the country for years. The issue has been exacerbated this year due to COVID and its associated negative economic reverberations.
“We’ve been a growth industry. There are more of our neighbors – locally, statewide and nationally – who are facing food insecurity today than there were yesterday,” said Brock.
While the Missoula Food Bank & Community Center does work with decision makers in Helena and Washington, D.C., to help shine a light on the growing issue, the organization also has a local focus that it works on every day.
“We’re trying to make sure that we meet needs in our immediate and local community for families today,” Brock said. “Let’s make sure that families and individuals literally have access to healthy, nutritious high-quality food for their refrigerators and their pantries today.”