First-time meal delivery volunteers Chuck Swarm and Leslie Beach weren't quite sure what to expect when they set out in a pickup truck loaded with food-filled Styrofoam takeout boxes and bouquets of Gainan's flowers Tuesday morning.
Swarm and Beach made up part of a contingent of volunteers who arrived at the Billings Food Bank Christmas morning to ensure hot meals reached the hands of Billings residents, some of them living under difficult circumstances relating to things like mobility, income or limited interpersonal relationships.
An estimated 40 meals were delivered this year, said Sheryle Shandy, the executive director for the food bank. This is the first year that the Billings Food Bank on Christmas Day has done both food delivery and served a meal at their Fourth Avenue North building. The addition of food delivery was brought on after the Montana Rescue Mission discontinued a similar program.
Deliveries were made to handwritten addresses on slips of paper with other contact information for meal recipients. More delivery volunteers showed up than were needed for deliveries, but Beach and Swarm still managed to get five delivery slips.
"We take it for granted what we have," Beach said afterwards. "This was probably the best Christmas I think we've had though, by doing this. It's not about gifts, it's about giving and giving your time, I think."
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Their delivery route took them up and down streets in the North Park area, down gravel driveways, across snow-covered lawns and into apartment buildings for about an hour before the final meal had been received.
"We were both kind of choked up a bit," Beach said, of their first successful delivery, this one to a man who was visibly injured and mostly quiet when he opened the door.
Subsequent deliveries grew increasingly upbeat as "Merry Christmas," smiles and thanks were exchanged. By the fourth delivery, Beach was hugging the recipient.
Swarm, who teaches in the science department at Billings West High School, called the experience eye-opening to see the variety of living situations in the area. He said he thinks he'll be back next year. Meeting the people requesting the meals also gave him a better understanding of who they are, Swarm said.
"I think they're in need and they're appreciative, and like I said, they're just so happy to have a warm meal."