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Community Cafe and Headwaters Food Pantry

July 16, 2013

Montana – Thursday, July 11

I woke up this morning refreshed and ready to tackle State #41 – Montana! I was glad I stopped last night – I was near a river in a valley between a couple mountain ranges. I was just a couple miles away from the town of Big Sky, and once I was packed up (I was a little slow this morning!) I found a really pretty bike trail winding through the woods on the side of a mountain. So I got over 3 miles of walking done before leaving Big Sky. We then continued north to Bozeman, and the drive was very scenic – I’m glad I didn’t do it in the dark. Once there, I stopped to sort out some donation opportunities and to get a plan for the next day or 2, and 2 things jumped out at me. The first was the Bozeman Food Pantry and their Community Cafe, which is a soup kitchen, but it’s run like a restaurant. The second was over in Three Forks Montana which is where I was planning to stay tonight, and the Headwaters Food Pantry just so happened to be open late on Thursday nights, one of only 2 days they’re open during the week, so I thought it was meant to be.

The first thing I did was call the Bozeman Food Pantry to ask about making either a food or financial donation to the Community Cafe. She told me if I could wait about an hour and a half, the volunteers for tonight’s dinner at the Community Cafe would be showing up, and I would be able to go inside and see how things are run, and then I could just give my donation to the volunteer coordinator. I said I could definitely wait – I had walking to do anyway!

I had some other phone calls to make – I reserved a campsite at Three Forks State Park, and talked to someone at the Headwaters Food Pantry to see what they needed, and made a vet appointment for tomorrow for a blood test to check Tula’s Lyme disease levels. Then I found the Community Cafe, and Tula and I got out for a mile of walking in that neighborhood before I went inside to see what that was all about. I arrived right when Megan, the volunteer coordinator, was going to talk to a relatively new crew of volunteers (different churches in the area send over volunteers to help with the dinner) and most of my questions were answered when she was telling them how things worked. One would never, ever guess that this is a soup kitchen, and that’s how they want it to be! The Community Cafe has only been open for a little over a year (although the food bank has been around for many years), and they acquired an old restaurant/shop that used to be called the Frontier Pie Company, which sat empty for 7-8 years. So there’s a frontier motif with a lot of wood in the dining area and it’s just charming. They get homeless people in for dinner, but they also get senior citizens on fixed incomes, and families with children who occasionally can use a free meal. Megan had 7 volunteers tonight, which was plenty – one would be the hostess to greet and seat the guests, 3 would be servers (taking their orders – some want a full meal and some only want part of it, and getting either milk or water for them), and 3 would be “scoopers” – putting together the requested plates of food. The food is all prepared over at the Food Bank and brought over, but there’s a huge kitchen area in the restaurant which they are working on. They’re really excited to have a kitchen on the premises, because then they’ll also be able to offer things like cooking classes. An electrician was busy at work in there when I peeked in. Tonight they were serving a turkey dinner – kind of like Christmas in July! It’s difficult to predict how many people they will feed, but they always plan for at least 100, and they were starting off with 130 turkey slices and accompaniments today. If they begin to run short of food, Megan gets creative and if they have an especially large crowd and have to resort to sandwiches, that’s what they do. People are allowed to have seconds if they want, but they do try to keep track of the numbers of meals served. I expect their guests all enjoy visiting – it’s definitely a pleasant restaurant-like experience.

Then Tula and I got another mile of walking in on the Montana State University campus, but then we had to head to Three Forks, so I could take care of that donation before they closed. It was still a bit of a drive. Three Forks was smaller than I expected, and I had trouble finding a grocery store. But I finally found it on the outskirts of town. The volunteer there had said they could use whatever basic staples I could bring, but they could also use some milk, and maybe even some cookies! Usually they try to stick to the healthy food, like all food pantries, but sometimes cookies are a treat, so I shopped for the basics, and milk and cookies! This was a small-town grocery store, and prices were kind of high, so I couldn’t get as much as I normally could. It sort of made me wish I had shopped at a bigger store in Bozeman, but it’s good to remember that many people don’t have access to larger stores, and their food costs are higher. It certainly affects their food budget and that’s good to remember now and then. I got the food delivered just before they closed. The volunteer working there tonight was a substitute for the usual person, so she couldn’t tell me too much about the numbers of people they help, and she’d had a number of people in tonight, but it hadn’t been too terribly busy. This particular food pantry was started by a retired couple nearly 30 years ago – it grew out of the desire to provide a Thanksgiving dinner to people in need all those years ago, and now they have a tidy little food bank in its own building, and they still spend a lot of their time shopping for food, even though they’ve gotten much older!

Then we found our campground at the state park, and I chose out a pretty site – they had quite a few people, but weren’t full yet since it wasn’t the weekend. Tula and I took a long walk around the place, and down to the Madison River – I was startled to look down the bank to see a beaver swimming by! I think that’s the first beaver I’ve seen in the wild. Tula was very, very intrigued by this swimming rodent, and she hopped down the bank, and I had to literally haul her back up – I don’t think that would have been a good encounter. But she sat and just gazed at it while it swam away – it made me wonder what was going through her mind! We got back to our campsite, and a couple people stopped by who had also been out for a walk. They were Jeannie and Al, and we chatted for a bit, and discovered we’re all national park fans (they have a son who is a park ranger) and they’re on an extended trip, and they were intrigued with my journey, and they even invited me to stop by their home in Washington, although I think I’ll be in Washington before they return from their travels. It was fun to talk with them and hear about some other national park places. A good end to a good day!

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