HELENA — The Snowbird fund, a fund used for aiding Indigenous families and friends in their search for missing loved ones, has recently doubled the available amount per grant.
Created by Montana Businesswoman Whitney Williams with the Montana Community Foundation (MCF), the fund is designed to quickly provide money to families who have had a loved one recently gone missing. It launched in February of last year.
The fund has been slowly growing throughout the last year, so much so that they have been able to double the amount of money given per grant, from $500 to $1,000. On special occasions, there can be more money given per grant, situation depending. The money goes towards a wide variety of needs such as cell phone payments, gas money, and hotels and is given out based on decisions by an Indigenous-led committee.
During the fund’s first year the group handed out $6,000 in 11 different grants. 37.5% of that money helped pay for search and rescue efforts, while 25% covered travel and lodging. The remainder was split evenly between family support, memorial services, and family unification. Five grants went to the Browning Area and two to Lame Deer. Polson, Box Elder, Hardin, and Dutton area efforts each saw one grant.
This fund is a first of its kind in the entire United States, says Mary Rutherford, President and CEO of the Montana Community Foundation.
“We've just had this overwhelming response from people contributing to this fund. This was the first fund of its type in the United States,” says Rutherford.
Anna Whiting Sorrell, 1 of 3 Indigenous committee members, says that this is a crucial avenue for Indigenous families who might not otherwise have the funds to search for missing persons. While Indigenous people make up about 7% of Montana’s population, they account for about a quarter of the state’s reported missing people.
“Native people in this state have such high rates of poverty. Maybe other people have access or have resources, these families don't,” says Sorrell.
You can find more information, as well as how to donate, by following this link: https://mtcf.org/giving/our-funds/snowbird-fund