With demand increasing and donations down, the Montana Rescue Mission is reaching out for support from the community and plans an open house and a new way for groups to help the faith-based nonprofit with its meal program.
“It’s really important for us, because we’re heading into the busiest time, between Thanksgiving, Christmas and the winter months with people coming in,” said Denise Smith, public relations and marketing director for the MRM.
An open house at the Men’s Shelter is set for Wednesday as part of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. Visitors can tour the facility and eat lunch. It’s one way to help dispel any misconceptions people may have about the MRM, Smith said.
"We really want to educate the public that it's a safe haven, and it's a clean and not a scary environment," she said.
The pressure to provide food and shelter is increasing as more people find their way to the rescue mission.
“We’re up 15 percent across the board,” Smith said.
As of Oct. 31, 1,085 individuals had been sheltered at the Men’s Shelter so far this year and 668 at the Women and Children’s Shelter. The average stay per person is 21 days.
The number of meals served to guests, non-guests and at the Community Crisis Center totaled 70,790 as of the end of October. At the same time, financial contributions are down.
The MRM relies solely on private donations for its operating budget.
“A majority of our donations come off disposal income, which includes gas, oil or natural resource royalties, so when the economy slowed down, that negatively impacted us,” Smith said. “People are still donating but not at the levels they had been.”
Except in winter, when frigid temperatures drive the chronic homeless population inside, about 90 percent of the people who stay at the shelter are employed.
“They’re saving money for deposit and first month’s rent when they’re with us,” she said. “They’re just with us to get on their feet.”
Smith pulled out a card that will be handed out during the open house, which answers other frequently asked questions. They include:
- Does it cost to stay or eat at the MRM? (No.)
- Are you ever full? (No. We make room for everyone.)
- Do you have to be a Christian to stay at the MRM? (No. All are welcome here.)
- Can an inebriated individual stay at MRM? (No, we are a sober living facility and recovery center. Under extreme weather conditions we will make reasonable accommodations to provide a safe shelter environment.)
During the coming week, volunteer groups will also provide the food and effort to prepare meals under the banner of the new Bring a Meal program. The community dining room at the Men’s Shelter feeds not only residents, but anyone who wants to drop in for lunch or dinner.
That’s where the Bring a Meal, or BAM, program comes in. Businesses, service organizations and churches, or even groups of friends are invited to reserve a night where they bring in enough food to make a meal for an estimated 150 people.
Eight to 25 volunteers will get to plan the meal, buy the food and prepare the meal alongside the kitchen’s two master chefs, Tyler Fisher and Stuart Bovington. Lists of recipes with all the ingredients are provided.
On Sunday, a group of longtime supporters will make the first meal. Junior League of Billings will come in on Monday, with Yellowstone Bank following on Thursday and Faith Chapel on Saturday.
“People are really excited to learn from master chefs and work alongside them,” Smith said. “It’s a little like cooking school, but you’re doing it to benefit the poor and homeless.”