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Businesses pitch in to keep critical hunger program going for rural Montana

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    MISSOULA, MT (KPAX/KAJ) — We usually think of Neptune Aviation responding to the emergencies of a devastating wildfire.

But right now, the Missoula-based company is helping with a different emergency, helping to make sure the hungry are being fed in the state’s far-flung corners, teaming with local businesses and the Montana Food Bank Network (MFBN).

The MFBN warehouse has been locked down for safety since the COVID-19 pandemic began with only staff using the facility.

That posed a major problem because the agency depends on volunteers preparing food boxes for the Mail-a-Meal program.

But Neptune Aviation stepped up and offered one of its hangers as an alternate location.

“Yeah, normally volunteers come into our warehouse and we do a similar build like this in-house. But because of food safety protocol, we’ve had to do it over here and this is worked out, so wonderful for us,” MFBN Agency Resource Coordinator Eric Luongo said.

“It’s close by to our warehouse, and then we have wonderful volunteers who would come out and help us build these boxes for the Mail Meal program,” he added.

“It was just such a relief for us and a load off our backs. And they want to come out and help and we love ’em to do that. Since we’ve been out here, I believe we’ve packed about 15,000 boxes,” added MFBN Events and Communication Coordinator Taylor Flores.

Volunteers with First Interstate Bank were busy on Thursday morning filling the boxes which are set to be shipped to every corner of the state.

“And we have a very large state and there’s a lot of small communities around the state that don’t have resources in their communities like a food pantry that they can access,” Luongo said. “So, this program is designed to help those people.”

“So, we send a food box of shelf-stable food directly to their door and the program largely serves seniors. But there are some younger families that do take advantage of the program as well and benefit from it,” he continued.

Not only has the space been a relief for the Montana Food Bank Network but it’s been welcomed by the volunteers who are anxious to help out during the pandemic.

“During COVID like there aren’t very many volunteer activities or they just aren’t able to do so. This is a nice…morning — couple of hours. Do some team building. It was awesome,” Flores said.

Flores has the volunteer scheduled booked for the rest of this month but is welcoming help after the first of the year, and always looking for other businesses to help like Neptune Aviation has.

“Yes, we will be needing a new space come on the New Year in January. And if anybody is interested in volunteering with us, definitely give me an email or give me a call and we can get that set up once we figure out where we’re going to be,” Flores said.

The Mail-a-Meal program is unique to Montana, offering families and individuals one box of food per month.

Click here for more information about any of the Montana Food Bank Network’s programs.

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