AmeriCorps member Kaleigh Choi carries bags of donated food during the annual Doorsteps to Backpacks food drive in Helena, Mont., Mar. 7, 2018.

HELENA – Around 300 AmeriCorps volunteers from around Montana took to the streets of Helena and East Helena Wednesday. They went house to house, up and down the slushy streets, collecting donated food.

The AmeriCorps members were assisting with Helena Food Share’s annual Doorsteps to Backpacks food drive. Residents left items like granola bars, applesauce and oatmeal in front of their homes. The food will be used for Kid Packs, which provide two meals each weekend for local students who might otherwise go hungry.

Kelsey Aerni, a Montana Conservation Corps member working out of Kalispell, led a team of volunteers through Helena’s West Side.

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“It’s really special,” she said. “I love being a part of these types of projects.”

Helena Food Share started the Kid Pack program several years ago with just one school, Bryant Elementary. In 2015, they expanded the program to every elementary school in Helena and East Helena.

“It’s really significant that we’re able to be in that many schools, providing that many Kid Packs to over 1,000 kids,” said executive director Bruce Day.

Last year, the Doorsteps to Backpacks drive collected more than 10,000 pounds of food for Kid Packs.

“Hopefully we can top that this year,” Aerni said.

This is the fourth year that AmeriCorps has teamed up with Helena Food Share. The drive kicked off the annual ServeMontana Symposium, which brings AmeriCorps members together to training and discussions about how to best serve their communities.

Montana first lady Lisa Bullock thanked the members for their service. She said one in five children in the state struggle with hunger.

Bullock pointed to a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

“I have to commend this group in here,” she said. “You are answering that question beautifully.”

Day said it is the partnership with AmeriCorps that makes the annual drive possible.

“We just couldn’t do this without their help, to put out the number of people that it requires to go to every doorstep in the city limits of Helena,” he said.

Aerni said she’s grateful for the opportunity to serve.

“I just really appreciate AmeriCorps going out of their way to do this instead of being in a conference all week, just getting out in the community and doing some good work,” she said.

While the food collection has been completed, Helena Food Share is still accepting financial contributions. Even before Wednesday’s collections, they had already raised more than $6,000 – enough to pay for more than 800 Kid Packs.

You can find more information about the Kid Pack program at the Helena Food Share website.

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