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Area Artists Contribute To Montana Food Bank Network “The Taste” Silent Auction

Area Artists Contribute To Montana Food Bank Network “The Taste” Silent Auction

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Last year, as the impact of COVID began to be felt across the nation, artists Leslie Kesler and other artists from our region put their talents to use to raise funds in support of local food banks.

By the time “Painting for the Pantry” came to an end, it had raised over $20,500. Food banks across the state, and as far away as Pickett County, Tennessee, benefited.

Now artists, many from our area, are once again joining together to support the Montana Food Bank Network (MFBN) during their annual “The Taste” silent auction. “The Taste” is normally held in Missoula. In the past, tickets have been sold and the event features food and drink vendors. This year, the event is going virtual due to COVID.

Scott Kesler, who sits on the MFBN Board of Directors had an idea. Scott, who is the son of Leslie Kesler, “asked if I would donate a painting for the silent auction and I suggested that we ask some of the Painting for the Pantry artists if they would be interested,” according to Scott’s mom, adding, “since this fundraiser benefits many of the food pantries in Montana.”

There was no theme set for the project, according to Leslie Kesler, “All of these artists have very different and unique styles. There is a nice variety of subjects which gives buyers that are looking for a piece of art a choice of what they like.”

The paintings donated and some of the details of the pieces are:

Christa Morgan, Choteau - “Rugged Beauty,” 18x24 oil on canvas)

Leslie Kesler, Choteau - “Flowers on the Prairie,” 12x16 paper towel and fingers acrylic painting on canvas

Barbara Baumgartner, Choteau - “Abandoned,” 12x16 oil on canvas board

Andy Watson, Fairfield - “South towards the Dearborn,” 9x12 oil on canvas board

Diane Hausman, Fairfield -  “Angel’s Shadow,” 8x10 oil

Shelly Walker, Dutton - “Early Morning Beauties” 12x15 oil pastel

Dawn Sievers, Vaughn - “Montana Kildeer,” 8x10 dye on silk

Judy “JR” Gurnsey, Vaughn - “Circle of Life,” 8x10 oil on archival sanded paper (her photo was on the wall in the photo)

Steve Nelson, Great Falls -  “Packin In,” 8x10 watermedia

Lee Tisch Bialczak, Fairfield - “River Shadows,” 8x10 oil on canvas

Shirley Anderson Sylvester, Bitterroot Valley - “Skalkaho Falls,” 9x12 oil

The auction is open to the public. People can go look at the silent auction items at any time on the event page at then go to the menu and click on browse items.   The silent auction will have a soft opening starting Feb 22 and finish up on the night of the event on March 5.  People interested in just the silent auction do not have to buy a passport ticket or an event ticket.

Of course, with the success “Painting for the Pantry,” the Sun Times asked Leslie Kesler if there were plans to launch the program again. Last year when COVID-19 stopped us all in our tracks Leslie put a few of her paintings on Facebook to raise funds for Food Pantries, giving the buyer a choice of what pantry to benefit.  After selling a few small paintings, other Front Range Art Association artists noticed and asked to join in.

The project morphed into an endeavor beyond the participating artists’ expectations.  Forty plus artists painted small paintings and sold them on the Facebook page “Painting for the Pantry”. More than 1100 people followed this page generating money that went directly to local food pantries across the state and beyond. Some of the money raised was donated to Montana Food Bank Network to help pantries across the state. “This wouldn’t have been possible without the generosity of the many talented artists across the state and the people that supported the project by purchasing a piece of art,” said Leslie. “This year 11 Painting for the Pantry artists, all members of FRAA are pleased to be able to continue their support of Montana Food Bank Network and the many pantries they help across the state of Montana by participating in ‘The Taste’ fundraiser.”

Continuing, Leslie told the Sun Times, “Because so many of Painting for the Pantry artists were from this area the Food Pantries from Choteau, Fairfield and Augusta did very well from the Painting for the Pantry last year. 

Kyona’s Biggest Drive and other generous donations were also big reasons for our local pantries to be able to serve the people that needed extra help during this pandemic. 

Of course, there is always going to be a need, and we don’t know how long the after effects of COVID will continue to hurt our communities.

With that in mind, and the encouragement from Darryl from the Sun Times, we did register the name of Painting for the Pantry and will continue with special projects at different times.  This event with MFBN is giving us the opportunity to help many different pantries and organizations that MFBN partners with.  There are also other pantries, other than food pantries, that may need help from Painting for the Pantry so that option is also open.  The door hasn’t been closed on this project and when the need arises, we will be putting our paints to canvas to help out.  People can check out Painting for the Pantry on Facebook ( to see what we are up to.”

After the Sun Times had gone to press for the print edition, we were able to pose some questions about "The Taste" and how the MFBN has fared during the COVID pandemic to Taylor Flores, Events & Communications Coordinator with the Montana Food Bank Network.

This is the first time MFBN has taken "The Taste" virtual due to COVID. How has COVID affected financial support for MFBN so far?

Yes, this is the first year The Taste has been virtual.  Usually, this is an in-person event where we sell 1,000 tickets, and we have over 40 different food and drink vendors come and give out samples of their products to our guests.  The Taste also is a great event to help our local vendors get more exposure in the community.  The event is a win-win for everyone.  Mind you, The Taste was March 6, 2020, and the first COVID-19 case in Montana was March 13, 2020.  The Taste was one of the last in-person events of 2020.  We did see a considerable increase in monetary donation due to the Global Pandemic.  It was nice to see our neighbors and communities come together and support one another.

Compared to previous years, how has demand on MFBN changed?

The demand for MFBN has changed so much due to COVID-19.  Many of the larger cities saw an increase of 200% to 300% of families needing food assistance. MFBN needed to act fast to ensure that all of our 164 Network Partners had the food and supplies they needed because no one knew what the future would hold.

On average, how much does MFBN raise with "The Taste?"

Last year, The Taste raised $71,000.  We are hoping to match or beat this goal this year.  With our ticket sales, silent auction items, and Passport event, I feel confident we will make our goal.

Could you describe for our readers how this virtual event will work?

The Taste live event will begin at 6:30 pm on Montana Food Bank Network YouTube channel.  You can buy a Virtual Ticket at to receive early access to the event. The Taste Silent Action will go live on Monday, February 22, and the Silent Auction will close at 7:30 pm on Friday, March 5.  We will be having a Passport event for our local Missoula residents. We have eight local restaurants, distillers, and breweries offering Special Taste food and drink items to all of our Passport holders. The Passport event will be February 22 until March 4. We still wanted our local vendors to be part of the event as much as possible because, without the vendors, the Taste would not be as much fun as it is.  You can find more information at

How many food bank/pantry organizations does MFBN support across the state?

MFBN has 168 local food banks and food pantries within our 346 Network Partners across the state.  We are Montana's only local statewide food distributor, and we have trucks running every 6 weeks to each of these locations. We could not do what we do without our Network Partners.