The nine-month series of free community dinners in Hamilton concluded last Friday, according to chief organizer Gary Locke of Family Shelter of the Bitterroot. Locke said that from the Monday after Labor Day 2020 until last May 28 this year, volunteers served 9,599 meals, both in dining areas and delivered to cars in curbside service.

This is the seventh year for the community dinners and this year's expenses ran to $33,499.94, according to Gary, who said that averaged $3 per meal. He said the inside dining was done in two shifts, because of COVID-19 restrictions. Only 40 people could be seated at a time. It was a stretch for the volunteers, too. Only ten people could be in the kitchen at the same time.

However, the main difference caused by the pandemic were the drive-up dinners, he said. An unexpected expense was caused by the need for containers for the meals, which added another $2,500 to the costs. However, Locke said the project's budget stayed healthy, and he said there is enough money to start up again this fall.

The meals were provided Mondays and Tuesdays at Cornerstone Bible Church, Wednesdays at the Assembly of God Church and Fridays at St. Francis Catholic Church. This spring, the United Methodist-American Baptist Church picked up every other Thursday.

Locke said, "This, seriously, is a community operation - helping people that are really in need. There's so many helpful people in the Bitterroot. Some give their time, some give their money - but we're still upright and we're still going." Donations can be sent to Family Shelter of the Bitterroot, P.O. Box 656, Hamilton MT 59840.

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