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Out of the adversity of this summer's forest fires came an enormous windfall for the Missoula Food Bank — more than two tons of free food.

The gift from three fire camps was unsolicited, said Aaron Brock, the Food Bank's outreach coordinator. But when the Mineral-Primm, Black Mountain and Fish Creek fire camps drew their operations to a halt about three weeks ago, the Food Bank received 4,903 pounds of food. That included about 1,000 pounds of fresh vegetables from the Fish Creek camp.

And it included ribeye steaks and pork chops, chicken, potatoes and canned juices. The donation turned into about 3,200 meals.

"These fire camps had a pretty noble purpose to begin with," Brock said. "We've just simply been expressing our gratitude."

About 1,500 pounds of the food was prepared food, like lasagna. The Food Bank was ready for it because of its Food Circle program, which rescues prepared food from grocery stores, the University of Montana food services and food businesses year-round. It is then turned into individual frozen meals. Last year, the program saved 73,000 pounds of food that would have been thrown away, turning it into 50,000 meals to distribute through the Food Bank.

The Food Bank served 2,938 people in August. Thirty-eight percent were children, and 17 percent were seniors. It recently opened a satellite office in Frenchtown, which distributes food the fourth Tuesday of each month. The staff is considering adding another day, said Food Bank director Cynthia Lotty.

The nonprofit agency is also considering a program in Potomac, where 13 percent of people live in poverty.

Another beneficiary of the forest fire food was the Poverello Center kitchen and homeless shelter. It got hundreds and hundreds of pounds of food, mostly prepared food that was cooked in fire camps and then not needed, said Poverello director Joe Bischof.

The center received a constant flow of food nightly, he said, after decisions were made at camp kitchens. It also received large donations of breakfast foods, including burritos, sausage, muffins, juice and milk.

The Poverello this summer was serving about 400 meals a day and helping 2,575 people through its food pantry. The fire-camp donations helped, Bischof said.

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