Courtesy: Helena Food Share

MISSOULA – When someone comes to the Missoula Food Bank these days, it might not be to get an order of food to feed their family — it might be to share a story time with their toddler or take a cooking class.

The Missoula Food Bank is quickly becoming not just a source of help for the hungry, but a place where lives are being changed “beyond the food” as Dennis Bragg found out when he went On Special Assignment.

When the new Missoula Food Bank opened just short of a year ago, we were all impressed by the more spacious and efficient operations, allowing them to serve more clients.

Story continues below

But for Missoula, it’s a new day for the hungry. Beyond distributing food donations and assistance, the Food Bank is also turning into a hub for community education.

While the Missoula Food Bank’s principle function remains food distribution, a closer look shows there’s a lot more going on at their Wyoming Street facility.

“Something that we’re intentional about is trying to do a lot of different things that are different, simultaneously, all the time,” food bank director Aaron Brock said. “And even though that takes a lot of strategic management we are purposeful about that because it worries stigma for people walking through our doors.”

Welcome to 2018, and the educational side of the Missoula Food Bank. From “Tiny Tales” for the little ones in cooperation with Missoula Library, to the “Empower Place” from SpectrUM, cooking and craft classes, the facility is becoming a destination for families and individuals of all ages to learn new skills and find new hope.

“Food today is not going to solve the issue of hunger in our community. And so the more that we can do to partner, to again, address those upstream issues, but also to just form community and resilience among families is all that much towards that end goal,” explained Missoula Food Bank Director of Development Jessica Allred.

The concept is to help families learn something new and recognize opportunities that could ultimately be life-changing. The perfect example is the multi-age cooking classes.

“We’ve heard from surveys and focus groups that there’s a lot of people who don’t have time, or don’t feel like they have time or skills to cook from scratch,” Brock said. “And if you can do that you can stretch your own food buying budget farther. So that was sort of the genesis of getting our cooking classes

“You know, this is not about fine French cuisine in there. This is taking basic foods that are available, that are locally grown, that are inexpensive. How do you — if you’re a stressed-out single parent — turn those into something that your kids will eat, that doesn’t break your budget and that might even be fun to make with your children,” Brock said.

The classes we stopped by are full of fun, excitement and smiles. And you can see the new friendships taking shape, friendships that offer new hope when times are stormy.

“I’m not isolated with people that are only in my same boat. That happens a lot of time with social services as well. This being universal programming for everyone in our community, regardless of socioeconomic background, goes a long way as well,” Allred said.

“If you and I were to take a cooking class together, we make soup together for an hour and a half, at the end of that time we’re going to know each other in this profound way,” Brock said.

“And so, what we’re really seeing is that food is this fabric that ties our community together and that crosses socioeconomic barriers. And that’s been really fun,” Brock concluded.

The Missoula Food Bank is always looking for new volunteers, especially with these new educational programs, and businesses and organizations that would like to be partners.

Click here if you’d like to becomes a volunteer.

Reporting by Dennis Bragg for MTN News