For the 43rd year, the Bitterroot Valley Kiwanis - a service organization with a focus on children - will distribute Christmas food boxes to families in the Bitterroot Valley.
The process began months ago and culminated with the filling of boxes by Kiwanis, community volunteers, and student organizations that branch from Kiwanis.
This Christmas food box project started in 1974 by Kiwanis founding member Bill Delaney and has grown. On Saturday. they will distribute 600 boxes to 300 hungry families.
Kiwanis food box coordinator Christina Dunbar said the distribution is important because “it is Christmas - a time to share and give and show love for each other.”
“Winter is a time that bills go up and families struggle to keep up with paying for increased energy/heating costs, providing food, heat, winter clothing, and gifts is difficult,” Dunbar said. “I think it is important that as a community we pull together to help each other and care for people in need.”
Families signed up to receive boxes at Ravalli Head Start, Haven House (Hamilton’s food pantry), and Darby Bread Box (Darby’s food pantry). Kiwanis provide two boxes to each family who has signed up from Darby to just south of Victor Crossing.
Gathering the boxes began in June, soliciting for bids began in October, and asking community members for donations began in November.
A friendly competition between the classes at Hamilton High School for collecting food was organized by the student eouncil. The senior class won and the total weight of food gathered weighed nearly 7,000 pounds.
School Student Council adviser Seeley Mickelson said students brought items from home and stood outside of local grocery stores to gather donations from the community.
“They ... worked hard, and food was constantly coming in throughout the competition, Nov. 27 through Dec. 13,” Mickelson said.
The food was then bused to Hamilton Middle School for filling boxes, which had been done for years in the Hamilton High School lobby. Dunbar said the Kiwanis program began in the cafeteria at the middle school.
“The smaller space is a little bit more of a challenge,” she said. “It is kind of nice to be back where it all started.”
More food than what the student council could gather was added to the boxes, including items from low-bid local grocery stores Hamilton Market Place and Albertson’s.
The filling process began with labeling each box with the name of the client, the number of people in the home, and specifics like food allergies. Each box also received a ham or a chicken, potatoes, oatmeal, sugar, flour, soups, vegetables, fruits, cheese, hot chocolate, pancake mix, and basic essentials.
“People don’t usually get toiletry items at local food banks,” Dunbar said. “Toilet paper and paper towels tend to be a luxury item, so people get pretty excited about that.”
Key Club is the high school version of Kiwanis and HHS has nearly 75 active members. Morgan Kellar, Key Club reporter, said the food drive was successful, but she mostly enjoys putting the boxes together.
“You get to work with Kiwanis members and the community,” Kellar said. “I enjoy seeing where the food is going and how it all gets put together.”
On Friday, 48 volunteers, five Key Club members, and 35 Builders Club students assembled the boxes.
Builders Club is the Kiwanis International Middle School Program, a service organization for middle school students ages 12 to 14. The program has been in Hamilton for 10 years, has 50 students, and advisoes are Hamilton Middle School educator Owen Burch and Principal Marlin Lewis.
“Builders Club is awesome because it gives kids an opportunity to help people in the valley,” Burch said. “I’m just watching them glow with excitement.”
Burch said the club also raises funds for families to have food at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.
“We give flowers on May Day to older community members and we do Valentine’s to old folk’s home. We wash fire trucks, and shovel snow,” Burch said. “We do a variety of things but this event gives them the opportunity to interact with Kiwanis, who do a lot of good for the youth of the valley.”
Alexes Brenneman, a seventh-grade student in Builders Club said she is eager to help to “give people food who don’t have it all the time.”
Teryn Searles was helping out because it's a nice thing to do for those who don't have food, and Jordan Triplett said he is doing it out of personal knowledge.
“I had a friend in Georgia who didn’t have a lot of money and couldn’t afford all his food for Christmas,” Triplett said. “He got stuff like this and I remember he was extremely happy when he did.”
Hamilton residents receiving boxes should go to the Hamilton Middle School. In Darby, families pick up their boxes from a local church coordinated by the Darby Bread Box. Some boxes are delivered to homes.
Pantry Partners, Stevensville’s food pantry, distributes food to its clients' on Tuesday, Dec. 19, covering the north end of the Valley.
Bitterroot Valley Kiwanis President Jaime Tadvick said the Christmas box service project is the main reason most members belong to Kiwanis.
“It is neat to see the community really support this,” he said. “Key Club and Builders Clubs get them involved in Kiwanis early and their help really gets this project done. Tomorrow is the best – when we distribute the boxes, see a lot of smiles and receive a lot of grateful hugs. ”
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