In light of the current crisis we all find ourselves in, I have decided to postpone Part II of How URDs and TIF have shaped Missoula’s Growth as I mentioned would be coming in last month’s column. It will be forthcoming in future months.
In good conscience I must address the state of anxiety and uncertainty we all face in this era of the COVID-19 pandemic. If anything can test the heart and soul of a community, an unexpected and protracted public health emergency would be an ideal candidate. This challenges us all economically and societally without favor. Personally, and like many of you, I’m unable to see my coworkers face-to-face in our usual office environment currently, so I write this from home where I am staying out of the public arena as much as possible. Being a social animal, not being able to see my friends and community members anywhere including at any of the planned-for-then- either-postponed-or-cancelled MDA events, board meetings, luncheons, BrewFests, etc., is slowly driving me crazy. Isolation is a potential burden we must all bear at the moment.
This being said, I know I’m not alone. And neither are you. Times like this are when Missoula and its people have a history of rising to the occasion. The closest thing I’ve experienced to anything like this was during and after the Missoula blizzard of 2014. If you were here then, you’ll be able to recall the absolute stand-still it created in town at the time. Buried under feet of snow overnight, all of Missoula’s streets were clogged with stuck or disabled vehicles. Trees were down. Utilities were out. Homes and sidewalks were unrecognizable. And the worst possible consequence of it all was an unheard of and tragic avalanche that inundated homes in the Lower Rattlesnake neighborhood at the base of Mount Jumbo. While facing all of this sudden hardship for every single living soul, what did the people of Missoula do?
They rose up. They rose up in droves. Neighbors helped neighbors dig out. Strangers helped push vehicles out of intersections. Teams of friends came together as mini-task forces to tackle anything that hindered life as we knew it. Folks checked in on the elderly and vulnerable to see if they were okay or needed anything. We helped each other, fed each and comforted each other. And most strikingly, the community rushed to the scene of the buried homes in the Rattlesnake to dig, prod, poke and find the unfortunate people who were buried alive. There was loss of life and property that day, and it could have been much, much worse. And there was much salvaged in the effort – lives were saved. Heroes were made that day … and they were everywhere.
What does this say to me about this community? It tells me that I, nor anyone else here, are ever alone here. In hardship, we are one. We share. We help. It’s what defines us as a community. We take care of each other. And right now, this means we are asked to stay put as much as possible and for an unknown amount of time. This is so we can help take care of each other and support/protect our critical medical community members, emergency and safety-related first responders, and local government agency employees; to make a dent and “flatten the curve” for everybody.
We can also take care of each other by helping our local businesses while they are forced to close to the public. Purchasing Downtown Gift Cards or gift cards for your favorite restaurants are a good place to start. Ordering takeout as much as your budget can afford keeps a cashflow coming in for them that can make all the difference to their sustainability during lean times.
Donating and volunteering are other ways to take care of each other. For those needing financial assistance due to lost wages, the fantastic United Way organization has directed all contributions to their Emergency Fund to directly assist those in the hospitality and service industries and others. The Poverello Center, the Missoula Food Bank and a local Facebook grassroots organization born of the crisis have all set up means to volunteer and donate during everyone’s time of need, particularly for our most vulnerable. If you’re able and healthy, financially or otherwise, I wholly encourage you to do so.
And don’t forget take to care of the artist community in this cultural hub of Western Montana; those members who bring us so much joy on a daily basis and are suffering financially. Many online concerts with “virtual tips jars” included exist for your local musicians to gain exposure and at least some income from a wide audience. Look up your favorites online and you’ll find them. And the ZACC’s now-cancelled “Mini-Show” is going to online bidding which is critical fundraising for them. These are just a couple of examples, but it’s the time to give back to those have who contributed so much to our whole community and help make Missoula the vibrant town it is known for.
We are all each other’s heroes in this crisis. Now is the time Missoula is rising up again, and we are all in this together. Please stay healthy … and please take care of each other.