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A year in review, from our departing Jesuit Volunteer Liam Morrison

2015 has been a considerable year in the Poverello Center’s 41 year history. January was our first full month in our new emergency shelter on West Broadway Street. Nine months later, in September, we have been able to provide 1,093 individuals experiencing homelessness with a combined 30,922 nights of shelter. I am humbled by these numbers and humbled more so by the fact that I am able to be a part of the team providing this service. My name is Liam Morrison and I was selected to serve as one of the two Jesuit Volunteer at the Poverello Center from August 2014 until July 2015.

Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest is a non-profit organization headquartered in Portland, Oregon. It was established in 1956 when a group of Jesuit priests called dozens of young men and women to serve at the recently opened Copper Valley School for Alaskan Native and Non-Native Children. Its program was so successful that the Peace Corps modeled their approach after the work of the Jesuit Volunteers. Today, Jesuit Volunteer serve in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana- living communally with other volunteers serving marginalized communities.

I had never heard of the Poverello Center or Missoula before being told I would spend my first year out of college serving here. I did not know what to expect. My experience has been remarkably positive.

I have helped prepare and serve meals, engaged in intake meetings with our residents, enforced our rules, and to the chagrin of our residents, performed countless wake-up calls. What I value most about my year, however, is that every day I was able to connect with others.

Every shift I served as a Jesuit Volunteer, I interacted with dozens of individuals. Whether it was someone casually explaining how their day went as I handed them a towel, or an emotional explanation of how a resident came to be in need of our night services I was given the opportunity to empathize. Residents shared with me the trauma they have endured and I was in able to listen and attempt to support. It’s one thing to acknowledge income inequality and classism. It is completely different to attempt to alleviate the consequences of them. Serving at the Poverello Center allowed me to do the latter.

I was not perfect. Serving at a shelter is much more emotionally and mentally taxing than the customer service jobs I had held as a student. All too frequently I would attempt to do three or four things at once. Residents and co-workers alike began to compare me to a chicken with its head cut off. It took me the majority of my service year to learn to take things one job at a time. Despite feeling overwhelmed, I never began to dislike working at the Pov. I felt exhausted in the best way possible. Never before had I been so tired after a job, but never before was I motivated to make myself this tired. Serving at the Poverello Center filled me with purpose I had not experienced before. I was not just selling tennis shoes or busing a table. I was able to be part of a team helping a marginalized and vulnerable population. Never before had I been a part of something so meaningful. I consider this year to have been the most important in my life so far and I owe that to the incredible people at the Poverello Center.

A million meals served . . .

Food and shelter Missoula, Montana

When I started working for the Poverello Center almost eleven years ago, I would have never expected to be such a huge part of this community. At the time I worked as an overnight direct staff worker, checking in clients for the night assigning beds and chores for the following day, locking down the building for the night and handing out sack lunches and blankets on the coldest winter nights.

I liked the job because I got to help people feel comfortable and give them a safe welcoming place to stay for the night. Some nights we would sleep only 40-50 people, which is much different from today when we are sleeping 150 or more people on any given night. After working the long overnight shifts for two years the kitchen manager at the time was leaving to take on a different job in Oregon.

I was very passionate about the work I had been doing for two years and thought that managing the kitchen would allow me to reach out to many of the people whom I didn’t ever get to see during the day, the families, the working poor, and the shelter resistant individuals, as well as interacting with the clients who stayed at the shelter doing their chores. I had never worked in this kind of capacity with food service and the challenge was a bit daunting. However, I walked into the kitchen determined to learn the ropes.

The first month I cooked and served over 8000 meals, which was a significant feat for me! I worked daily with many clients and volunteers crafting delicious meals and learning their secrets and tricks to pulling it all off. Running the soup kitchen at the Poverello Center is quite different from other kitchens. The budget for purchasing supplies is around $500 dollars per month. That’s right $500 dollars a month to feed around 10,000 hungry people. That requires the kitchen manager to be very resourceful.

Fortunately the community in Missoula is extremely generous and donates over 500,000 lbs of food each year to the Poverello Center and its food programs. This food comes from grocery stores, catering companies, churches, restaurants, gardeners, non-profits, and caring individuals that want to support the Poverello Center and do not want to see food go to waste. What this means as the kitchen manager is that you never quite know what you have to work with on any given day, you need to be clever with your cooking and able to substitute ingredients on a moment’s notice.

One of the first few weeks as the kitchen manager we received a donation from a local grocery store of many different kinds of gourmet cheeses; Brie, Goats milk, Port Salut, etc. What do you do with all those different kinds of cheeses? Well-being a cheese head myself, and trying to feed the most people possible, the answer seemed obvious to me. You make macaroni and cheese of course! At home I probably never would have considered doing something like that, but in my role as kitchen manager it made the most sense. Let me tell you that was some of the most delicious macaroni and cheese that I have ever tasted, and it did not last long on the serving line.

That has always been one of the most rewarding aspects of the job for me, the ability to think outside of the box and to be open to new ideas and other people’s perspectives. The first few months as kitchen manager, I didn’t quite know how to prepare many of the things that the clients and volunteers would ask to make. I would pour over cookbooks trying to figure out the best recipe, and ultimately the answer was right in front of me.

I asked the people volunteering and working with me how they did it. Some were trained chefs who attended culinary school and worked for five star restaurants, some were ladies from local churches, who cooked with recipes handed down through their families, and some were clients who knew exactly how to improvise with limited resources. The vast wealth of knowledge amongst the people volunteering and working in the kitchen was truly remarkable, and was something that I utilized every day as the kitchen manager.

For six years I continued to expand and grow the Poverello Centers food programs, developing new partnerships with community members, restaurants, farmers, stores, and individuals, ultimately resulting in my current role as the Program Manager of Emergency Services. Just last December we moved into our new facility with its state of the art kitchen, and hit a new milestone.

In the time since I first stepped foot into the kitchen as the kitchen manager through January 1st 2015 I have been a part of and overseen the production of 1,028,381 meals! Never would I have thought I would have been a part of that remarkable accomplishment. It truly is a testament to a community that is incredibly giving, both in the physical sense of product and money, but also in the sense of time, energy, knowledge and volunteerism. The accomplishment of those meals really goes out to everyone in the Missoula community that has been a part for the past nine years. Without the support in the community it would not have been possible. Thank You!

Join us for Community UNite, July 8th, 5pm!

As the Poverello Center is preparing to be a part of the Northside KettleHouse Community UNite series on July 8th, we are reflecting on how thankful we are to be a part of the Missoula community. We appreciate being involved with such a kind and generous city; we know how fortunate we are. People donate food to our pantry and kitchen. They donate much needed toilet paper, towels, and blankets. People give money so that we can exist and they give their time so that we can run smoothly. It is not just the people in Missoula who are so generous, but local businesses as well.

We recently participated in United Way’s Day of Action and were privileged to work with Missoula Federal Credit Union. They helped all day! In the morning they went out and picked up trash in the community and in the afternoon they cleaned and organized our shelter. There are many businesses, like KettleHouse Brewing Company, who routinely host nights supporting non-profits; where a portion of their revenue on a given night is donated to a Missoula organization. The support and generosity of Missoula is overwhelming. From the people to the businesses we are honored to be here. Thank you Missoula! We value everything you have given us and look forward to seeing you on July 8th for our Community UNite event.


About the Poverello Center

Volunteers at the Poverello Center

The Poverello Center is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing food, shelter, clothing and other essential services to our community’s hungry and homeless population in and around Missoula, MT.

For the past 40 years, we have proudly worked in conjunction with community members, local groups, government agencies, and other organizations to fight the issues of homelessness, hunger, and poverty on all fronts – while fostering dignity and engendering hope.

Learn more about our services today.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” – Steve

Resources for the homeless - Missoula, Montana

I wish… “That my dad is happy and healthy. He is retired now and likes traveling a lot. He spends anywhere from six to ten months over seas. I haven’t been able to get a hold of him yet.”

I look forward to… “I’d like to try going to college. To get training in something that isn’t physically intensive. [Something] that uses my head for more than a hair farm and a hat rack. I want to go back to a job, have a place of my own, and be a functional member of society.”

My favorite thing about the Poverello Center… “[Is] the quiet and tranquility. This stay was like a retreat. At least for a short period of time it allowed me to think about a lot of different things, like where do I go from here; what are my goals. There was one time when it was just a stop in the road.”

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
Read Steve’s story and learn more about the faces of poverty.