MISSOULA — A broad coalition of community activists gathered in a virtual meeting this week for something of a brainstorming session. When it was over, they emerged with a new name: the Missoula Community Action Alliance.
The newly minted group has spent the last year working to build a diverse network of everyday people intent on crossing social and political division to make positive change.
“Our hope is that our neighborhoods and other organizations of everyday people emerge more connected and committed to each other’s well being than ever before,” said Casey Dunning. “The divisiveness that we see in our national politics is just as present in our local neighborhoods, it’s just not as obvious.”
Dunning said the organization has already been called to action during the coronavirus outbreak. As the community went into lockdown, the alliance launched a food drive, organized volunteers and recruited members of the faith community to provide space for emergency childcare and shelter for the homeless.
The group is now focusing its efforts on helping frontline workers and those who were negatively impacted by the pandemic.
“Being engaged in conversations during COVID on behalf of the food bank has allowed me to connect with people who are currently the most vulnerable,” said alliance member Suzanne Melina-K. “Those that I spoke to were elated to receive a call out of the blue from someone who cares about them, inquiring about their needs and their pressures.”
The alliance claims members in 35 partner organizations and has representation in five Missoula neighborhoods. Dunning said it has helped create new social connections, even during the lockdown when socializing was a challenge.
Citizen leaders are also hearing what some of their neighbors need. That helps them find ways to respond through their growing membership, which includes members of the faith community and the Missoula Area Central Labor Council.
“Having the leaders of labor unions connected to community organizations, faith organizations, neighborhoods and citizen leaders made advocating for lower wage workers and all working families during this crisis an aligned and community wide effort,” said Derek Hitt, head of the labor council and an alliance member.