Missoula Food Bank Director to Lolo Community Center: Join Mask Lawsuit? No Food for Lolo.
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Missoula Food Bank & Community Center Executive Director, Aaron Brock, seemingly threatened Lolo Community Center with disassociation last night.
The community center recently joined a lawsuit against Missoula City-County Board of Health and Health Director Ellen Leahy for the agency’s COVID-19 response. The Lolo Community Center board was set to vote last night on its continued participation in the suit after board president Warren Kingdon entered the community center into the lawsuit subject to board approval.
Food bank outreach coordinator Jessica Harrell was dispatched by Missoula Food Bank’s Brock to deliver his statement at the community center’s board meeting last night. In his statement, Brock asserted that, “Missoula Food Bank and Community Center and Lolo Food Bank will not participate in or be associated with this challenge to public health.” Harrell did not indicate where the Missoula Food Bank would relocate the Lolo Food Bank if the Community Center were to join the suit.
The Missoula Food Bank coordinates the Lolo Food Bank which is hosted at the Lolo Community Center. The Lolo Food Bank does two monthly food deliveries serving 30 Lolo families, according to Brock. The possible threat of disassociation from the community center by the food bank throws Lolo families who depend on the food bank for supplemental nutrition into uncertainty.
Quentin M. Rhodes, the lawyer representing Missoula County citizens’ case against the Board of Health and Leahy, spoke at length at the beginning of the meeting. He noted that not only are the orders from the health department unconstitutional, but they are also founded in questionable science. The mask mandate is not scientific, but “a test of virtue, loyalty, and obedience,” Rhoades told the attendees. In the lawsuit, Rhoades included a 15-page affidavit from an expert witness testifying to the viruses low death rate and the malignant response to the virus from health authorities.
The lawsuit the community center joined challenges the county-level COVID-19 restrictions on businesses and individuals including mask mandates, early closures, gathering sizes and more. The lawsuit asks for injunctive relief to end the orders.
Several Missoula County citizens and businesses, including the Lolo Community Center are named as plaintiffs in the suit. A similar lawsuit was filed last month against former Governor Steve Bullock and the Department of Public Health and Human Services for his administration’s COVID-19 response. These lawsuits are being organized by Stand Up Montana.
As a result of the responses from the state and county against businesses and individuals, the Lolo Community Center has lost $15,000 in revenue, according to Kingdon. The community center has held fundraisers to stay open as it is had to fight the county. Spring fair and the farmers market were cancelled by the health department, according to Kingdon. “The haunted house, our annual Christmas party, they even cancelled Santa Claus on us. And our bingo. We were shut down for three months for bingo and this is our main fundraiser,” he said.
Kingdon’s expressed that not only the financial future of the Lolo Community Center was at stake, but the community as well, “I have been accused of not caring. I care for everyone in this room. I have empathy for those who have been infected with COVID and sorrow for those we have lost. I have concerns about this center being shut down again. I have concerns about young people who come to the center who I have to tell they can’t sit together and they ask me why and I can’t give them an answer only that ‘The department of health won’t let us,'” Kingdon shared.
The meeting was well-attended by supporters of the lawsuit and of Kingdon’s action to include the community center. Most attendees were maskless. Some were waving American flags. Most everyone expressed how important the community center was and many thanked Kingdon and the rest of the board members for their work over the years to support the center.
During speeches, supporters of the lawsuit and of Kingdon expressed their frustration with the contradictory nature of the Health Board’s mandates. About how the virus is not as dangerous when sitting down at a table in a restaurant. How the virus becomes even more deadly past 10pm. And a litany of other impassioned outcries that included being isolated from family members, including in nursing homes, and sick or dying loved ones in hospitals.
One woman who saw the event playing out on Facebook Live drove to the center in her pajamas to provide her opinion. She shared that she was not concerned with the mask mandates, but with Kingdon’s action to add the Lolo Community Center to the suit.
After several hours of debate, the Lolo Community Center board ultimately voted to leave the lawsuit in a 3-2 vote.
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