This time of year we often think of miracles. The Biblical story of the first Christmas is full of miracles. The Jewish festival of Hanukkah celebrates another miracle.
Here in Butte, we annually begin the holiday season with a miracle.
I’m talking about the annual Thompson Food Drive that benefits the Butte Emergency Food Bank. This has been going on for a long time, going back to the 1980s. Begun by Jim and Marge Thompson, owners of Thompson Distributing, the longtime distributor of Budweiser beers, the leadership has been taken over, this year, by Harrington Bottling, the local Pepsi bottler and distributor, but, it’s still the Thompson Food Drive.
More importantly, the annual food drive demonstrates the power of volunteers. I’ve been one of those volunteers and the job I’ve invented for myself is to be the photographer.
There are a lot of moving parts in this annual community-wide food drive, and every part of it involves volunteers.
I didn’t have my camera ready when my neighborhood’s volunteers, a young mother and a little boy, who looked like he was about a two-year old, were trudging alongside a fire truck, picking up bags of food from the curb. It was a frigid morning, but the mom and boy cheerfully walked through new-fallen snow to do their job.
The neighborhood collections go to one of several collection points where they’re loaded into big trucks and taken to the Food Bank, and that’s where the miracle workers really begin.
It’s a process that’s usually described as “organized chaos,” and that’s an accurate description. When the trucks come into the loading dock, the first wave of volunteers go into the truck with grocery carts and bring them in where another group of volunteers makes an initial sorting of the bags of food into other carts. The carts go to other volunteers who sort the food into boxes of similar products, and the boxes, and yes, those boxes are Budweiser beer cases, get stacked on pallets.
If that sounds fairly simple and straight- forward, you need to see it to believe it. If you want to see something similar in nature, throw some bits of food on the ground near an anthill, and watch the ants swarm over the bounty.
The annual food drive attracts volunteers of all sizes and ages, including one little guy in a baby carrier, learning about volunteerism before he could even walk or talk. There are elementary and high school kids and many older people who are veterans of many food drives.
If there’s a commonality among the many volunteers, it’s their smiles. They’re doing important work, and much of it is hard work, but just about everybody has a big smile on their face, because volunteerism on a community-wide scale such as this is infectiously fun. I always leave thinking this is the happiest place in town.
Of course, the volunteerism doesn’t stop on that first Saturday of December. Through the year, crews of volunteers put in regular shifts at the Food Bank sharing with many people the gift of food on the table to feed families.
There are other food drives during the year, such as the Postal food drive in the spring, but this is the big one, the one that fills the food bank’s shelves and feeds people throughout the year.
Butte, Montana is a special place and this annual food drive is just one special reason why.
The food drive wasn’t the only miracle going on. Not far away, at the Maroon Activity Center, hundreds of people got almost-new winter coats and jackets that other Butte people had donated.
While I’m at it, I might mention that on the same weekend as the food drive, the good people at Gold Hill Lutheran Church celebrated their Scandinavian heritage with their annual Lutefisk dinner. Lutefisk is one of those ethnic foods that is either loved or despised. As one Lutheran clergyman described it, “It’s the piece of Cod that passeth all understanding.”
The holiday season is truly a time for miracles.