Holiday Drive is Most Important of the Year, Here’s Why

By Paige Judnich, Volunteer Board Chair

Dear Friends,

It has been another busy year at Missoula Food Bank & Community Center. Changes have occurred at every level of our organization, and as Board Chair, I am proud to be a part of our ongoing work to identify and meet community needs and to engage those closest to the issues of poverty and food insecurity in finding and implementing solutions.

One internal change has been a shift in organizational leadership, as we have prioritized lived experience on our Board of Directors. Our board adopted new bylaws last year dictating that a minimum of half of our board members will be from low-income households. This change has added valuable perspectives and skills to our already strong governance model.

We also are moving forward to add medical care at the food bank through a collaboration with Partnership Health Center. Construction will begin this winter on a medical facility that PHC will occupy on the second floor of our facility, increasing access for our neighborhood and our customers to medical, behavioral, and (in the future) dental health care.

Overall, our focus is two-fold. We are committed to organizing and building collaborations that move the needle on the upstream issues that contribute to so many of our neighbors needing to use the food bank. At the same time, we are focused on the quality of our programming to respond to the acute demand for emergency services today. This year we have experienced a nearly 20% increase in the number of services we are providing through our nutrition programs. It is no small charge, impacting the lives of one in five people in Missoula County who would otherwise go without this basic need – but it is one we meet with resolve.

A community that shows up to help as volunteers and that gives generously as donors make everything we do possible. We have just kicked off our annual Holiday Drive; during the month of December, we need to raise $250,000 and 55,000 lbs of food so that we can continue to do this work. I hope you will join me in giving to this important effort that builds a stronger Missoula.

Thank you for being a part of Missoula Food Bank & Community Center.


Paige Judnich
Board Chair, Missoula Food Bank & Community Center

Join us for the 34th Annual Holiday Drive and help our local food bank raise $250,000 and 55,000 lbs of food for our local food bank.

Donate Online Here

Kids EmPower Packs at Hellgate Elementary School

The following is an interview with Chris Clevenger, Hellgate Elementary’s 3-5 Principal. Chris believes that the success of students is attributed to strong communication and connection between families and the school. One way that is accomplished is through Missoula Food Bank & Community Center’s Kids EmPower Pack Program.

After going to his office, which echoes all the busyness of kids heading to their next class, he starts to tell me about Hellgate’s expanding campus.

RP: The Kids EmPower Pack program varies between different schools – how administrators, counselors, or teachers facilitate the program – depending on the needs and the age of their students. What does the EmPower Pack program look like here at Hellgate Elementary?

CC: We rely a lot on teacher input, counselor input, and family requests. We noticed about three years ago that we had a lot of kids in need that were sneaking some things out of the cafeterias.

After noticing this continuously, I would ask them, “Hey, what’s going on? I see you have an extra milk? I see that you’re trying to hide in your backpack. It’s okay. You don’t need to hide it, it’s yours. But what’s going on?”

Through these observations, I talked to quite a few kids that had some struggles staying full over the weekend or there wasn’t a lot at home to eat. That prompted me to reach out to Missoula Food Bank & Community Center because I heard about the Kids EmPower Pack Program for weekend meals.

I talked to my counselors about it and then discussed it with the teachers and that’s how we established that we have a need here. We all communicate if we see a child in need. Our counselors are awesome about communicating with the families and making those connections. They are our lead when it comes to the program.

RP: I hear there is some student involvement when it comes to Hellgate’s Kids EmPower Pack program. Do your students actively help with the Kids EmPower Pack program?

CC: We have an active work program here, where we try to get the kids involved in as many jobs as we can create. Kids want to be involved. They want to help.

They’re obviously important stakeholders in this school and the more active that we can get them in their own education, the better. With our Kids EmPower Packs specifically, there are a few jobs associated with that — whether that is putting the fresh fruit provided in the bags or delivering them to counselors.

We have 72 EmPower Packs that are delivered to us from the food bank.

We then have “workers” who take them to the other school buildings. The counselors know that some kids need a discreet, confidential way to get a pack to them and then there are some who prefer to come down to their office for “a meeting”. They’ll come and get the pack themselves; they have no problem with that. Over the course of time, we have learned how to get those packs out.

In the school in general, the kids are pretty active in the program. They know what it’s about. We do teach them to use confidentiality and the importance of helping others and we have lots of kids that want to be involved in the EmPower Pack program. Most of the time kids see it and then want to get involved. We’ve had a lot of kids who say, “Hey! I could benefit from a pack, too.”

And there are kids enrolled that way as well.

RP: That must be a real testament to how you and your counselors have worked to make Kids  EmPower Packs a program surrounded by positivity. It is amazing the way that kids individually are identifying their needs to adults here.

CC: The kids will advocate for each other. They’ll advocate, sometimes it’s difficult, for themselves, but they will. Sometimes they just need a little push.

We have a very caring community here. I know our Health Committee and our PTA, they have found out about our Kids EmPower Packs and the impact it has made in our schools. A lot of the fundraisers and events, like our health fair and PTA fair, they will donate specific amounts of money or items to go to Missoula Food Bank & Community Center.

Through our parent advisory committees, we’ve shared that EmPower Pack story in terms of what it is and how many kids benefit from it.

They respond and feel like, “Well geez! What a great program! I want to give to that, too!”

A lot of parents in our community, people in our community seek out ways to try and help the school. Often we will steer them in the direction of this great program.

We’d rather them have a little bit more information about how their money is helping students, helping the community.

RP: Going back to your students who help, your “workers” as you called them, what are the age ranges of those “workers”?

CC: For us, this is the third, fourth and fifth grade building. I know that there are some work programs also in the middle school, but that program specifically, we began by targeting kids who had some attendance problems and concerns. So we thought, “Okay, how are we going to give them some more motivation to get to school.”

We tried to find the most important job possible that could give them a sense of, “Holy cow, I need to be there to do that, because that’s my job!”

And it worked! All to Sarah Schwarz’s credit, our counselor, and her creativity in creating those jobs!

It grew from a few kids to now we have application processes and interviews. He laughs.

The hard part now is finding enough jobs for all the kids.

RP: I bet! What are some other jobs that kids get involved with?

CC: Morning announcements is a big one. That’s one of the most important. All of our morning announcements are student led. Announcements take anywhere from three to five minutes in the morning, that’s just general information, but now it’s turned into a radio show in the morning.

The Kids EmPower Pack program is another important job, as I already mentioned. Playground cleanup, classroom clean up, we have art jobs, we had ice breaking jobs or snow removal jobs. We have all these things that kids are trying out to help the school, and they’ll come up with ideas too!

They’ll come up and say, “Hey, we should maybe have this kind of a group for the jobs.”

RP: That is great how involved they are!

CC: Yeah, it gives them more ownership, I think, in their building and in their education. Hopefully, it makes them want to be here more, too. It teaches them a little bit of responsibility, which they like.

RP: It sounds like these jobs invest them in their school.

CC: Sure. I can’t emphasize this enough, kids love responsibility, especially at this age. Everybody wants to be the one that passes out the papers. Everybody wants to be the one that holds the door or be the teacher’s assistant for the day. I think the more of those responsibilities you can give them, the better.

RP: What is it about working with kids, on an individual level or on a group level, that you enjoy most?

CC: It is rewarding. It can be difficult, at times, but I think you keep coming back to the impact that you can make in a kid’s life. I know now, being in at 20 years, I’m starting to see kids who have graduated and have their own families. They’ll come back and visit with me. That’s very rewarding.

There’s a lot of things in this profession that make you feel good. I don’t know if you can get that in every profession. It’s certainly what keeps me going.

RP: That’s awesome. With the EmPower Pack program, do you, your counselors or any staff ever hear feedback from the kiddos who receive them?

CC: There’s a couple of kids who get creative and I’ll see them trading items to get their favorites.

He laughs.

Overall, the feedback that we get is positive in terms of thank you’s; kids are very appreciative.

We also hear kids wanting to help or know more, whether it is questions about, ‘How do we donate or deliver or how do I get one of those myself?’

There have never been any negative stereotypes with the packs. I think Sarah has done a great job. She does monthly lessons with every class where she’ll teach about empathy, giving and being kind. I hope that the kids see that they can utilize the EmPower Packs as a life lesson, and a real life connection between giving, caring and empathy. The EmPower Pack program has become a learning tool.

RP: Can you elaborate more on those monthly lessons that Sarah teaches?

CC:  Our counselors are awesome! She’ll go to every classroom, every month has a different theme.

She goes to all 24 classrooms and she’ll be in there for her 30 minute lesson. It aligns with our anti-bullying program, our school rules and just trying to teach kids how to be good citizens and good people.

RP: That’s so powerful.

CC: It’s more important than you think. I know that many people think that kids are going to learn that from their parents. We don’t want to take the place of the parent in trying to teach them how to act and being respectful. We work with the parents.

When they’re here, there are certain things that we expect from them. We expect kids to be kind, be safe, be respectful, be learners; those are our universal rules. We try to work with them on that and help them understand that again and again.

Chris leads me to Sarah’s office. Sarah Anderson Schwarz is the school counselor in the 3-5 building. Her office has many cabinets stuffed with clothes, school supplies and food available for students who need assistance. There are students writing messages and drawing on cards. Sarah tells me this is a job for “workers” to help celebrate special occasions and birthdays.

RP: What made you want to be a school counselor?

SAS: I think I had some family influence. My grandpa was a psychologist and my mom was a social worker.

I got a degree in psychology. Towards the end of college I realized I needed to either get more school or a psychology degree, to continue on a specific path.

I really enjoy working with kids, so moving forward I wanted to work with kids. I started thinking about counseling kids, to combine psychology and working with kids.

School counseling can be so preventative. I get to go into the classrooms and talk about making safe choices. I get to work with all the kids versus just a few.

RP: What is your favorite part about working with kids?

SAS: How creative the things that they say are. They just see the world differently and I remember seeing the world that way. It’s kind of fun having a different perspective on life as an adult.

RP: Chris was telling me how you have students that help with EmPower Pack jobs, like putting the fresh fruit in the packs or helping to deliver them. What feedback have you heard from the kids participating in those job roles?

SAS: As far as delivering, the kids take the packs to the other buildings. The counselors do all of the delivering to the kids to keep it more confidential.

I think what I hear most are things like, “It’s so much fun helping!” and, “I’ll help you anytime!”.

They really like delivering to the other buildings, because they get to go to the K-2 building and be the big kids there. They also get to see their old teachers and their counselor from the previous building. Going to the Middle School may be a little more intimidating, sometimes, but I still think it makes them feel like they have a purpose. They have their job that makes them feel empowered, makes them feel important.

RP: Empowered from the EmPower Packs. That’s a great tagline!

SAS: She laughs. Yeah, empowered from the EmPower Packs.


Thanks to Sarah and Chris for their dedication to kiddos in our community! We couldn’t run this program without the extraordinary adults in our local schools who are on the front lines of fighting childhood hunger every day.

You can support kids in our community by donating to our Kids EmPower Pack Program during Missoula Gives. Click here to learn more.

Kids EmPower Packs at Frenchtown Elementary School

The following is an interview with Amy Griffin, Frenchtown Elementary’s K-2 Counselor.  Amy believes in providing support, compassion, and understanding to all children and their families. One way that she does this is through Missoula Food Bank & Community Center’s Kids EmPower Pack Program.

Her office is colorful with lots of toys and large silver stars that decorate the entrance. This is because she introduces herself as Mrs. America. If students are having a bad day, all they need to do is shoot for the stars and they will find her there!

RP: What got you into counseling?

AG: Clear back when I was in second grade, which was a long time ago, there was this lady who came into the classroom. I don’t even remember her name. She drew this picture about how to be your own best friend. I thought to myself, “Oh, I really like to do that.”

I just remember her coming in and talking about being positive, positive self-image and taking care of each other and yourself. I really loved that.

Then when I was in high school, I couldn’t decide between special education or counseling. I got to job shadow my school counselor, and I loved it. So that’s how!

RP: What’s your philosophy with school counseling?

AG: I think my philosophy is to make sure that every child has a place where they can be heard, and to make counseling be an acceptable place to go for help and to make sure that every student has a place where they feel like they belong.

RP: How long have you been at Frenchtown?

AG: This is my sixth year in Frenchtown. We’ve kind of been all over. (Referring to her family.)

RP: What’s your favorite part about working with kids? Frenchtown kids or with kids in general?

AG: I really love family systems. I really love working with parents. I love working with kids when they are able to connect with whatever it is they need to connect with. For example, I have a couple of little kids that are still doing what’s called parallel play, which is a really young developmental task. It’s impacting their social skills because they’re not able to engage. We’ve been working really hard in group a couple times a week to provide them opportunities to not parallel play, and to really coach them in engaging others.  That’s been really fun to see how they are progressing. It can be something seemingly small like that or something larger, like helping a family system that maybe domestic violence is a situation that they struggle with or intoxication. Yeah, so I like that it really provides a huge array of things.

RP: Can you tell me the history of weekend meal programs here and how Frenchtown Elementary and Intermediate Schools started with the Kids EmPower Pack program?

AG: Four years ago we had an eighth grader who was the catalyst. We had been talking as a staff about how this was an identified need at our schools. We definitely had students who were hungry. We can’t, by the nature of our jobs and the demands of our jobs, fundraise every day or every week. We needed a lump sum to kick us off, to get us up in running doing a backpack meals program. So it was at that point an eighth grader at the time, put together a program called Miles for Meals. He worked with myself and a couple of other staff members and organized this big run. It raised $6,000. He was the catalyst that got the project going.

We launched it in the Spring of 2016. We had identified some kids through some mentoring with us so we could really understand what food instability looked like. We then coached our staff to be able to identify these behaviors and through this we came up with our number of kids to enroll. We launched it that spring just to see how it would work. Does the viability of the program work? Do we have kids that we think need it but don’t need it? That’s how we launched it and we worked out the kinks over the following six to eight weeks, the remainder of that school year. Once we knew that the program had a lot of viability, that’s when we decided to go ahead full force. We have done a number of fundraisers and grant writing, just to get that going.

My former principal, who also is my husband, met with Missoula Food Bank, and there was a conversation about the EmPower Pack program starting up in Alberton School.  I was nervous to jump ship because we knew what we were doing. But the fundraising pieces became a huge part of my job. And obviously, the complexities with students’ needs, sometimes I don’t have that luxury of time.

RP: I can only imagine. With the nature of your work, you must be pulled in all directions!

AG: Yep.

RP: When did the EmPower Pack program start here?

AG: We started the EmPower Pack program in January.

RP: Being so new to the program, how do you feel it is going so far?

AG: It’s going pretty well. I think the meals are very well received [by students]. One of the things with the former program was that once every six weeks we’d get the shipment of food. That particular shipment would take myself and a couple of hand selected students a good chunk of time to unpack boxes, shelve them and take inventory. With the EmPower Pack program, stuffing the bags once a week is about 20 minutes. I don’t have to have that big chunk of time where we need two and a half hours to bring in the boxes, unpack the food and then recycle.

Now it’s faster, but we do it a little bit differently. Now I have the help of our life skills program. Our students who have special needs do it as a job. Myself and the life skills kids inventory the bags that the EmPower Pack food comes in, we then add the apples and we’re checking the food just to make sure that nothing has spilled in transportation to us. We’re helping with the recycling of the boxes, we’re counting, etc. There’s a lot of steps for them. I think we have six kids that help in the project. It’s a big deal for them. They come to work on Wednesday and we prepare the bags and get them ready for the teachers to pick them up on Fridays. It works out really well!

Because of the way the EmPower Pack program works, they come in deliveries of eight packs. If we have, let’s say 48, but we only need 41, we’ll take those seven extra meals and create a large box for a couple of families in need. Sometimes the families will come to the school and pick them up or I will drive it to their house. Because we are so far from Missoula, sometimes transportation is really hard for them to get to the food bank. We’ve taken some of the snacks that are within EmPower Packs, the little baggies of snacks and we keep them at the front office. Behaviorally challenged students can really deescalate with something as simple as a snack. We’ve also used the leftovers for that purpose.

To me, those two things are hugely beneficial, because if the outreach is farther than just the students who are struggling on the weekends. I’ve actually had two families come to the school and say, “I can’t get food. I can’t make it to the food bank. We’re short on gas.” I never had that outreach before. So I think that’s really powerful. It is one of those blessings, the way the EmPower Pack program works!

RP: How many kids are enrolled in the EmPower Pack program?

AG: We have 41, at the moment. And we have been as high as 72. That was two winters ago that we had three or four months where we were running 72 packs a week. We just had some higher need families and higher need students that were attending at that time.

RP: What feedback, if any, do you hear from kids or families about EmPower Packs?

AG: One of my favorite stories of all time: I have two girls that are in the fourth grade. They’re both very aware that I handled things from shoes to coats to food. They’re very aware that Mrs. America helps them with that. On one particular Friday they were both down here, one for one reason and one for another, and one of them had their backpack with her. She went to take something out and she had her food, her EmPower pack, at the top of the bag.  The other girl said, “I have my food bag too!” They started asking each other, “Ooo, do you like the sundried tomato rice dish?” The other girl exclaimed, “Oh, I really like the oatmeal!”  And so they traded. They sat in my office and went through their packs and traded for their favorites. I think they do it regularly now. I had never seen that before. I’m sure it has happened. It’s just not something that I had witnessed!

RP: How do students in your school get enrolled in the EmPower Pack program?

AG: We do a lot of identification with our staff about what food insecurity looks like. Kids who are always tired, lethargic, maybe complaining of being hungry. You know, we’re checking the boxes for those behaviors. Since we started the EmPower Pack program I would say I probably had four or five families say to me, ‘We’re in a much better place. We don’t need the food anymore. We’d like the food to go to wherever else it is needed.’ Which is what we hope for, we really hope for families to get to that spot. More commonly we see families ebb and flow on that point. Some families do better and then winter was a little harder and they have to pay for more propane. So then, food takes a hit.

Thanks to Amy for her dedication to kiddos in our community! We couldn’t run this program without the extraordinary adults in our local schools who are on the front lines of fighting childhood hunger every day.

You can support kids in our community by donating to our Kids EmPower Pack Program during Missoula Gives. Click here to learn more.

Kids EmPower Packs at Chief Charlo Elementary School

The following is an interview with Coryll Rupert, Chief Charlo’s Families in Transition (FIT) Coordinator. The purpose of the FIT program is to assist families who are experiencing homelessness and/or economic hardship. One way that she does this is through Missoula Food Bank & Community Center’s Kids EmPower Pack Program. All around Coryll’s office are drawers, tubs and shelves with labels that detail its contents including sizes, colors and whether it is for a girl or boy.

RP: This is organized! What are all of these clothes and toiletries? Are these for your FIT kids or anyone in the school who might have an accident, get wet socks, etc.?

CR: Most of the children that I actually work with here at Charlo are on that cusp. They’re right there, they are at risk. Their families are trying to make it from month to month so that they don’t flip over that edge into what could be a ‘true fit’ situation, a homeless situation. So toiletries, I have those because families that are in that at risk situation, many of them are on SNAP or TANF. SNAP doesn’t pay for or cover toiletries.

And I explain that to the kids. Like I have third graders that come in and help me put (EmPower Packs) together.  Put the apples and information in. And then I go through the office, just like I did with you, and tell them what everything is for. But with the toiletries, in particular, I point out that there’s toilet paper sitting there.

Some say, “why would somebody need toilet paper?”

I say, “Well, not everybody can afford even the smallest thing like that.”

I think it really opens their eyes to like, “Whoa. Okay.”

I just go through and I’m like, “There’s toilet paper and stuff and grownups will call me. You guys don’t know it, but grownups will call me and leave me messages saying, ‘Hey. Do you have any toilet paper? Do you have any shampoo? If so, can you please put it in so and so’s backpack, or leave it down at the office and in box?’” That’s where your banana boxes come in handy! (Referring to boxes that Missoula Food Bank & Community Center sends Kids EmPower Packs in.)

Over here are winter coats, hats, gloves and boots. These tubs have backpacks; girls’ bags in here, boys’ in here. Clothes of all different sizes. I have toddlers’ clothing up there for younger siblings. Halloween costumes are up there, right next to Valentines. We have a sock hop once a year, so I have poodle skirts that people can borrow. I only have five.

So yeah, that’s kind of everything and most everything in here was donated.

When we get new families, I will call and introduce myself. I’m trying to find those that need the program.

Right away many of them are like, “Oh, I’m good, I’m good.”

I’m like, “Okay, but I also need to tell you how you can help me.”

So then I let them know when you’re getting ready to go to Goodwill or wherever they may go, please call me first because chances are, I can probably use what they’re taking to the other place. That opens the eyes for the families too.

So that’s what’s in here. That’s why there’s this pile of donations I have to go through.

RP: This is very cool. I think even just having this displayed like this is great. I can’t imagine being kid in need of pajamas, or in need of socks, but seeing how much you have of everything, I’m sure it makes kids more comfortable to ask, or maybe even parents that come to your doors too.

CR: Yeah.

You originally asked if this was a place for when students need socks or have accidents or whatever. That too.

It’s kind of turned into that sometimes. It’s more that than it is for the other folks that I’m talking about. And that’s okay. We just want them to feel comfortable when they’re here. It’s not for dirty laundry though.

I had a little person a couple weeks ago actually, who immediately came here. She was standing in my door holding her coat and said, “I spilled chocolate milk all over myself.”

It was hard for me, because I’m a mom. But I also, we have to try and teach them too. If you’re messing around or if you’re out splashing in puddles at school, should I really help you? She was hot; there was another staff person here too and she was like *shrug*. We know this person this little person and we were like, “Were you doing this?” and she’s like, “Yeah…” So we had to just let her learn that it’ll dry. It’s really hard to watch them walk off after learning that lesson.

If it’s an accident, that’s a different story.

RP: Well, how long have you been here at Chief Charlo?

CR: Okay, so you told me earlier, you were going to ask one about why I am here.

That kind of goes into your question you just asked. This is my fourth year, but I started out as a parent. My son is an eighth grader now and he went here. When he was in fifth grade, and my daughter was going into kindergarten, the person that was in this position before me caught me about three steps into the door and said, “Are you ready to go back to work?”

I was just like “What??”

You wait for the chance for your kids to go to kindergarten so you have a little time for yourself. It was perfect timing and so I’ve been here for four years.

RP: And what got you, besides that circumstantial situation, into counseling and being a resource provider for an elementary school? What influenced you to become a school counselor?

CR: Okay, let’s see if I can say this without crying.

RP: Crying is perfectly okay; emotions don’t scare me!

CR: Laugh

My parents when they were little, would have been these kids. And I didn’t realize that until after I was doing it. So it’s just kind of in my soul, maybe.

I grew up in a great situation. I always had everything I needed, no issues. I mean, as a kid, you know you always wanted more, cause you’re just a kid. But my parents both were extremely poor.

My mom was in a domestic violence situation, abandoned as a child. When it came around to my siblings and I, all I ever heard was, “Don’t forget where you came from. Don’t forget where you came from. Try and put yourself in someone else’s shoes.”

And it used to drive me crazy! “What are you talking about? I didn’t come from anything. I have this. I have that.” I used to get so mad at her, but then, working here was like, “Oh!”, a kind of epiphany…. “This is what she meant.” This is where I came from. This was the reality just a generation before.

So, the tears though, I think, really come from the fact that my father was here. Not this past Christmas, but the Christmas before. My dad died in March of last year. It was the first time he’d ever been to my job to see what I do. For me, that was kind of like a full circle moment in some way. Because I remember he stood outside my door and he was just looking at all this stuff.

He looked at me and said, “I don’t know how you do what you do.”

I was like, “Really?! How can you say that? And I do it because you.”

So that’s where the tears come from.

Also going back to, Why did I get into counseling?, I have been in social work for a long time.

I just was always that person, even as far back in junior high, that people would come to me and I never understood why. They just always came to me when they have problems.

In college I got my undergrad in Health and Human Services. Right before I graduated my college counselor said to me that he truly felt I shouldn’t be in this field, because I was a detriment to it, because I was too sensitive.

And back then I was extremely sensitive, but thankfully he said that because it made me angry.

It made me, forced me to go get a graduate degree. So now I have a master’s in social work. When I was there, I did all my internships in different kinds of areas. I’ve been in a mental health setting, I’ve worked with the elderly, I’ve worked in a prison, I worked at Meals on Wheels and did home visits for a couple of years, I’ve kind of been all over.

Then I moved back to Montana, when my now eighth grader was 18 months, and then I was stay at home mom for 11 years. So that’s why the person before me said, “Are you ready to go back to work?”

And it was just this position is such a mix of all of it put together. Learning from all of those people just kind of seeped into me, how I feel very empathetic and it’s natural that I’m in this area.

RP: Going back, I wanted to touch on something again. You’d mentioned that you were told that you were a ‘detriment to social work because of how sensitive you were.’ In my head, I’m projecting why that would make me angry, but what particularly about that made you angry and determined to continue in this field?

CR: Aside from the fact that he was a psychiatrist, and he was one of those people that came across as it was his way or the highway and he knew everything. That’s one thing that made me mad. I was mad because I was thinking, ‘You’re telling me this when I’m getting ready to graduate?! I should be proud of something, and I’m the first person in my immediate family to graduate from college, and you’re telling me I shouldn’t be here?!?!’

When I think for my parents, it was probably such a huge deal.

You know, at the time I was just angry, because I was just a 24 year old kid thinking, ‘Who are you to tell me that? You don’t even know me!’, that’s where it came from, at first, but now looking back 25 years later, I think it’s more something in me knew that this is where I belonged.

Luckily, when I was in graduate school, the guidance counselor I had there also a male, but very different. He was an attorney, who, you’d think, would be someone, at that point in my life, that would have seemed overpowering and scary to me. But he just understood from my personality, that’s where I needed to be.

And so, he tried to foster it by having me work on a research project with him and gave me little, specific jobs to do, just to help build the confidence that I did not have. So I’m very grateful to him.

Coryll Rupert delivers Kids EmPower Packs at Chief Charlo Elementary School.

RP: So you’ve been here at Chief Charlo for four years. What is your favorite part about working with Chief Charlo kids?

CR: I think the fact that they see me as this safe person, and just like back in eighth grade, as a kid myself, for whatever reason my cohorts saw me as that and came to me. They see me as that too and come to me.

I don’t know if that’s necessarily any different at Chief Charlo than if I were at Franklin School or somewhere else. I think I fill their cup in the way they need and they fill my cup in the way that I need.

Plus, it helps that she’s across the hall. (Referring to her daughter who’s now in 3rd grade)

At recess she’ll pop by and come in for a hug. Again, filling up my cup, but, you know, it’s my child so it’s different. She laughes.

RP: What does the EmPower Pack program, look like at Chief Charlo?

CR: My first year and this year are a little different than the two in between, you’ll understand why in a minute. I go down, I get the packs and fresh fruit out of the cafeteria, that’s all me. I’m the person that delivers them, that’s all me.

But the in between work, putting the apples and the paper stuff that needs to go in them, students help me with that. The reason it was that way, my first year is because my office was over in the fifth grade hall and my son was a fifth grader. I talked to the teachers about having them help, because it’s extremely important to me to help children learn how to have empathy.

So I would pull them in, two kids per week, and we would just talk while filling the EmPower packs with apples. I’d show them around the office like I did with you and ask, “What do you think this is for?” and “Why do you think I’m here?”, and so on. Kids thought it was really cool that this was here for other people. There was a handful that you could see just quite didn’t get it.

What was really cool for me as the adult was, I knew which kids were receiving EmPower packs. To have them help me pack them with someone who wasn’t receiving them and to have them hear the questions, or see the interest of the other child, I think it also helped them. Helped them see that you didn’t need to be so embarrassed or feel so bad. If they wanted to tell them they received EmPower Packs, that was their choice, but I would never say it.

I feel like it brought them together. The reason I’m doing it again this year is that my daughter’s across the hall and her teacher believes that community service is one piece that is not in the curriculum. This is the closest that we could get to it. She agreed to it and she set up a schedule. Two kids come every week and help me out. I think next year I’ll probably ask another third grade teacher, so that we can try and do it every year because I want them to have some understanding of the program.

These third graders have been amazing. They’re so interested. They think it’s so fun. They believe it’s so important to help other people. They just have really good questions. It’s really great. And so then that’s on Thursday, and then on Friday I deliver. So, like I said, delivering is all me but that’s not true. There’s about 5%, of the deliveries a few kids help with.

I go pull some of the FIT kids out to help, for example I’ll pull one out a kindergartener, and she helps me quite often put the packs in lockers. I do that for a couple reasons: one, is because she’s behind educationally and that’s overwhelming to her. So I give her a break and I’m like okay look for locker 63, so it’s helping her with their numbers. Two: it’s helping with some socializing/communication.

I think it helps FIT kids to see that they’re not alone because they know they get them. They say, “Wow, that’s a lot of bags!”

I’ll say, “Yeah there’s a lot of kids here, they get these too.”

And then they’re done, I give them what’s called apack paw, you get these little rewards when you do things here at school and they go in a box in the in their class and then a name is pulled out at the end of the week and they get a prize. So they could get rewarded in that way but for me, I think it’s the reward of helping me, the high five and they go bouncing off the class.

These helpers are so young that I don’t think they truly understand what they just did, but I think something, at least, is setting in, a feeling of not being alone. I think it’s really important.

RP: How many kids are in the program here?

CR: We only have 40. Which, to me is still a lot, but compared to some other schools, I think it’s probably less.

RP: So with 40 kids in the program, do you ever hear any feedback about the EmPower packs?

CR: I tend to hear more about what you don’t like. She laughes.

What they do like: they like the pepperonis, they like the apples, the granola bars.They like when there’s something new in there.

What they don’t like is when it seems repetitive. Some don’t like that it makes their backpacks heavy, but those ones that don’t like that their backpacks are heavy tend to be the ones that in some ways they truly don’t understand why they’re getting them. Mom and Dad say keep sending them home.

You know there’s two or three that when I go to their locker the next week, the pack from the week before is still hanging in there.

I have to take those out of their locker and I have a little chat with them to tell them I understand you don’t necessarily know why this is important, but I really need you to take this home.

But then that’s where I have questions for you guys because I’m unsure, when do you decide that line of Do they really need that?

The milks I think are the one thing that over the years I’ve heard the most negativity towards. (Referring to shelf stable milk provided in EmPower packs.)

I don’t know if they put them in the fridge at home. If you put them in the fridge they are definitely a lot better.

I will ask for more feedback though.

One thing that I think is cool, I don’t know if it’s like this at the other schools, is that those that don’t get them want to know why. They see it as it’s cool to get these.

So I get questions from kids like, “Did my mom call you and tell you I need one?” or “How do you get those?” And I say, “Well your mom or dad have to tell me.”

“Has mine called this week?”, they’ll ask. She laughes.

And it’s like, “No, buddy, sorry.” So I think that’s a good thing and in the eyes of the majority, it’s a cool thing to get them.

RP: But that’s just even more value to the work that you do. You have reduced stigma in this school for these EmPower packs. Students see it as a cool thing of like, ‘Oh hey, how do I get my hands on one of those.’ Yeah, I think that’s really great.

CR: Thank you. I haven’t thought of it that way.

I will ask more though kids. I’ll make a point of that when we get back from break. Maybe I’ll just pull them in one at a time.

RP: Well, is there anything else about EmPower packs you’d like to share?

CR: No, I mean I appreciate it. Going back to my parents or past generations… there’s so many people over the years that went hungry. And so I think it’s just great that these are in schools for the kids now.

There are so many children that need them. It’s just such an epidemic problem.

Thanks to Coryll for her dedication to kiddos in our community! We couldn’t run this program without the extraordinary adults in our local schools who are on the front lines of fighting childhood hunger every day.

You can support kids in our community by donating to our Kids EmPower Pack Program during Missoula Gives. Click here to learn more.

Our New Home: 1720 Wyoming Street

Our local food bank has a new home!  After a year of construction, our new facility at 1720 Wyoming Street is complete, and as of Tuesday, May 30th at 10 am, we are open for services here.

It has been a long road, and we appreciate every person in this community who has contributed at public meetings, through our capital campaign, as a volunteer, and as patient customers; this relocation was a massive community endeavor, and we couldn’t be more grateful.

Tours of the space will be led Monday-Friday, June 19th-23rd from 1-2pm each day.  All are welcome to come see this amazing community center. Thank you, Missoula.

April 2016

  • Our Ground Breaking Ceremony was held at the new location on April 30th
  • April 30th marked the beginning of our Community Campaign to help raise the last $500,000 needed to help build our future home.

 January 2016

  • Brownsfield cleanup work with Bjorn Johnson Construction was completed within the month
  • Tom Javins of Flow Engineers was retained as Commissioning Agent

December 2015

  • Brownsfield Grant received final approval from Missoula City Council
  • Contract signed with Bjorn Johnson Construction to do Brownfields cleanup work
  • Management Staff met with Missoula Redevelopment Agency regarding a SpectrUM-Missoula Food Bank partnership
  • Our Capital Campaign crossed the $2 Million Mark

November 2015

  • Brownsfield RFP (Request for Proposal) made public
  • Brownsfield bids opened
  • Our Capital Campaign crossed the halfway mark ($1.6 Million)

October 2015

  • Missoula Food Bank kicks off Capital Campaign
  • Missoula Fire Department practiced “escape drills” in the dilapidated buildings at 207 N. Catlin
  • Our Capital Campaign reached the $1 Million mark

RenderingSeptember 2015

  • Architectural renderings for Schematic Design Phase completed
  • Capital Campaign marketing materials created & printed


August 2015

  • Design work for the new building begins with Encompass v2 and Jackson Contracting Group
  • Brownsfield Committee reviews and approves Missoula Food Bank’s application for cleanup funding

August 26, 2015

The City of Missoula has approved a grant request for $100,000 for environmental clean-up of our site. These funds will be used to remove asbestos from standing structures as well as to remove surface soil contamination present on the site. Funding from the City will allow Missoula Food Bank to clean this property to residential standards.

June 26, 2015

Community Design meeting is held at City Council Chambers, facilitated by encompass v.2. 20 attendees offered input to the design, function and overall neighbourhood presence of Missoula Food Bank at the Catlin site. Neighbour concerns included lighting. This is the final design meeting, concluding a series of targeted meetings that included board, staff, volunteers and clients.

May 28, 2015

Our Food Bank closed on the property at 207 N. Catlin Street. This is an important milestone for our organization and community.

Spring 2015

  • Scott Johnson of Cost Management Services hired as Owners Representative
  • Encompass v2 hired as Architectural Firm
  • Jackson Contractor Group hired as General Contractor
  • Territorial Landworks, Inc. hired as Civil Engineering Firm
  • TetraTech hired as GeoTech Firm

April 24, 2015

Missoula Food Bank has issued a public Request for Qualifications for architectural services regarding the design of our future building.  Missoula Food Bank will be pursuing a Modified Design Build process for the design and construction of the building.  Responses are due at Missoula Food Bank by end of business Friday, May 8th.  See RFQ here.

March 2015

Missoula Food Bank was awarded a Targeted Brownfields Assessment grant from EPA to conduct a Phase I and Phase II Environmental Assessment on the Wyoming/Catlin site.  Samples for those assessments were taken the week of March 2nd, and a completed report is expected in the last weeks of April, 2015.  If all goes to plan, Missoula Food Bank will complete the purchase of the property in May, 2015.

February 20, 2015

Public meeting was held with 31 community members about the identification of the site at 207 N. Catlin Street. Facilitated by MMW Architects, community members offered their input and ideas about the site and the Food Bank as a community resource. Feedback was resoundingly positive. Concerns to consider include adequate parking and impact on neighbourhood traffic.

February 5, 2015

Missoula Food Bank is pleased to announce that a best-fit site has been identified for the future home of our community’s food bank!  Located on the corner of Wyoming and Catlin Streets (207 N. Catlin), this former salvage yard and auto-repair site has been selected from a list of more than 30 properties which have been explored over the past eighteen months by Missoula Food Bank’s Building Task Force and Board of Directors.

July, 2013

Missoula Food Bank Board of Directors announce via Guest Editorial that the organization will be seeking a location for a new home. Public input is invited to help us find a best-fit new site for our community’s local food bank.

If you would like more information or have questions, please contact Aaron Brock, Executive Director at 406-549-0543, ext. 101.