Changing of the guard 

A long-time volunteer at the Missoula 3:16 Rescue Mission unexpectedly stepped into an administrative role at the Mission in early June because founder and long-time leader Deb Lester left in May.

“I’ve been with [the Mission] so long that it wasn’t chaos. It was a little bit of a shock, but it wasn’t chaos,” says Pam Herbst, who has volunteered with 3:16 almost since its inception.

Almost five years ago, Deb and Daniel Lester started the mission by serving food to hungry people under the Higgins Ave. bridge. Deb Lester made her departure from the Mission in May for personal reasons; the departure was announced in the Mission’s June newsletter. Deb Lester declined to comment further, but she is expected to leave Missoula. Daniel Lester, who says his wife’s departure was “kind of” unexpected, will serve as assistant to an as yet unhired executive director, a new position.

Deb Lester’s departure, says Herbst, motivated 3:16 to implement changes it had previously discussed, like hiring an executive director.

“We have talked about this [position] for quite some time,” says Herbst. Without an ED, she says, the mission has “always just made do.” But fast growth and the abrupt departure of its leader made the need for an ED acute.

Other recent changes are the results of growth and licensing, and are not due to Deb Lester’s departure. The mission recently rented space on the West Side that will serve as offices for mission directors and house gym equipment and computer resources for its clientele. It also just received a long-awaited license to serve food as soon as it installs a commercial refrigerator. The fridge, says Daniel Lester, is on order. He has the temporary license, he says, and the permanent document is in the mail. In a week or two, he expects that 3:16 will again be serving food—this time, pre-prepared foods only. (The City/County Health Department shut down the Mission earlier this year for serving food without a license.)

Herbst describes these days at 3:16 as “exciting,” but admits that there is some grieving involved, too. Deb Lester, she says, is a good friend.

Plus, she says, Deb almost single-handedly ran 3:16. “She did so much with very little help.”

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