A rumor floats around Missoula that our fair city hosts more non-profits per capita than any other city in the country. Not true, according to Brad Robinson of the Montana Nonprofit Association, but we're still pretty darn altruistic. Robinson counts 601 currently registered 501(c)(3) organizations in Missoula—or about one organization for every 100 people. There are 6,097 nonprofits in the state.
"That's a whole lot of engaged people," Robinson says.
Indeed. And these nonprofits hugely impact our economy and culture in Missoula, contributing to the character and civic pride that make us all want to live here. With so many organizations, though, it's hard to know where to start when you want to lend a hand or know-how.
We're here to help. We spoke with a handful of local organizations that rely heavily on volunteers to find out the best way you can get out there and give some time to the greater good.
The Missoula Food Bank is a good place to start, especially since food banks are among the first to struggle once the economy sours—demand goes up and contributions go down.
"We are always in need of volunteers," says Volunteer Coordinator Mayo Osawa, pointing to chores like boxing items, interviewing customers, stocking shelves and, on summer Saturdays, picking up donations from farmers' market vendors. Volunteers can also participate in the ROOTS (Recognizing Other Opportunities to Serve) program, packing food and delivering it to some 400 home-bound seniors in our community. Learn more at www.missoulafoodbank.org.
Speaking of seniors, Missoula Aging Services provides them crucial assistance through various programs. Meals on Wheels garners the most attention as volunteers deliver up to 1,000 meals per week. Those willing to help out need to be available during the day, Mondays through Fridays, and will receive a mileage reimbursement. Other volunteer opportunities include offering seniors companionship, and providing respite to spouse-caregivers who could use some time away. For more information, the organization regularly updates its list of volunteer opportunities at www.missoulaagingservices.org.
"That's a good way for folks to take a look of what we have to offer," says Volunteer Coordinator Curtis Hammond.
If peace and social justice is your thing, donate a few hours a week to the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center (www.jrpc.org).
"There's always something to do here," explains Katie Simpson. Like tending to the peace sign on Waterworks Hill, helping to organize the nonprofit's annual peace party, contributing to the newsletter, working in the fair trade store or inputting membership information to the center's database.
"And then there are events that we'd like to do at the Community Center, but we just don't have enough people," Simpson says. "We'd like someone to read to kids once a week and do a kids' hour, and then someone who's interested in hosting a discussion on current events each week. Those are things that we really want to do, and we try to do them in small segments, but if we could make them a regular occurrence that would be even better."
If you're looking to get your hands dirty—with immediate rewards—volunteer for Garden City Harvest, which operates community farms and gardens all over town. Through its "Volunteer for Veggies" program, volunteers can go to one of the organization's sites and put in time in exchange for fresh vegetables. Four hours gets you half a "share," which is about five pounds of food.
"It's a lot of food as we get into fall," says Estee Fleming.
Fleming adds they could use the most help at their River Road Community Farm and Orchard Gardens Community Farm. Check out the website—www.gardencityharvest.org—for more information and the volunteer schedule.
Want to help inspire in children a passion for the performing arts? Head to the Missoula Children Theatre's (MCT) Season Kickoff and Volunteer Party on August 27. It's like a job fair where you can learn about the many volunteer opportunities at MCT, such as working as stage crew, designing costumes, building sets or ushering a community theater performance. There's also marketing and office work to be done, fundraising, photography, data entry and more. "We have a lot going on," says Volunteer Coordinator Greg Boris. So get in touch at www.mctinc.org for more information.
Missoula's Poverello Center (www.thepoverellocenter.org) stands out as the state's largest homeless shelter and soup kitchen. In 2008, according to Executive Director Ellie Hill, volunteers logged 22,766 shifts at all of its sites.
"The opportunities are immense," Hill says, "with everything from wrapping presents at Christmas time to serving breakfast, lunch or dinner in a soup kitchen line, seven days a week, 365 days a year." Volunteers can chop veggies and serve food in the cafeteria, work in the clothing room sorting donations, spend time with homeless families at the Joseph Residence or visit with veterans at the Valor House.
"We rely almost wholly on volunteers to keep us afloat," Hill says.
Finally, for folks with plenty of time who want to spend it in the outdoors, consider volunteering at any of the Montana State Parks (fwp.mt.gov/parks/volunteer) surrounding Missoula. According to Lee Bastion, Region 2 park manager, campground hosts are needed every summer at Placid Lake State Park, Chief Looking Glass State Park near Florence, and Frenchtown Pond. Can't donate your summer? Then lend a hand during one of the river cleanups. The Lower Clark Fork/Alberton Gorge cleanup takes place August 29. Or volunteer at Travelers' Rest State Park in Lolo. You can even "adopt" a fishing access site.
Of course, there are many more organizations in Missoula in need of a helping hand, so go find one that serves a cause important to you and offer it. Soon, the Montana Nonprofit Association will have a website to help we Montanans find more opportunities that, Robinson says, "are close to heart and close to home."