Hellgate Band Fundraises For New Trailer


The old band trailer was retired after decades of serving food at the Western Montana Fair. Photo courtesy of October Moynahan.

Ali Caudle and Luke O'Connell

This spring, the Hellgate Band is holding a fundraiser for a new food trailer. The band sells food at the Western Montana Fair each year, which will be from Aug. 11 to Aug. 15 this summer. Money raised at the fair primarily goes towards funding the band’s bi-annual trips, which have included trips to Carnegie Hall and Hawaii.

In 2019, the Missoula Health Department informed the Hellgate Band that the current trailer was “not safe and no longer usable.” Until that point, the food trailer had been in use for over 20 years and was the “backbone” of the band’s fundraising efforts.

The band started fundraising by selling food at the fair in the 1970s, when a local taco business helped them get started. The current trailer was made in 1986. While it received regular maintenance, it finally reached the end of its life in 2019. 

The Hellgate Band was able to purchase a trailer this May and are currently in the process of raising money to fix it up. As Hellgate Band parent October Moynahan put it, “Our old trailer was basically a beloved food shed on cinder blocks that was difficult to move and not up to current code for safety. Our new trailer will be a true mobile food unit – a food trailer with new equipment, updated electrical and plumbing, and the required fire suppression systems.” 

Hellgate Band Director Leon Slater added, “The primary [improvement] is the extinguisher hood, but that is really only the beginning. Our new trailer will be much easier to transport and set-up. The layout plan of the workspace should flow much better and be way easier to keep clean and organized.” 

In updating the trailer, the Hellgate Band program is also hoping to expand from just selling frybread. Hellgate senior Rex Koenig added that they want to diversify their menu over time. Going into the summer, the band is “trying new options and seeing what works,” he said.

The current estimate is that it will cost between $25,000 and $40,000 dollars to purchase and do the maintenance work on the used trailer. A GoFundMe campaign in the fall raised $12,000, and the program is currently about halfway to their overall goal. 

According to band parent Gwen Jones, the food truck offers “the opportunity for band students to raise a good chunk of money on their own.” Funds from the food truck allow students to finance the trips and ensure that money isn’t a barrier. “The opportunity to raise that money provides an equal playing field financially, so all kids who want to go on the band trip can,” said Jones.

According to Koenig, funding from the trailer is also used for instrument maintenance and various other band costs. “The food trailer is the lifeblood of our organization… it’s our dominant source of revenue,” he said.

As Koenig sees it, there’s no better way to raise money than “sloppin’ bread with your buds to happy campers on the warm summer evenings of Missoula.” All band students are allowed to volunteer. “People are all into it, great energy and vibes, and I have just good memories. There is something magical about working until the dark comes and the lights flicker on as the fair comes to life in the cool shade of night,” Koenig said.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the 2020 Western Montana Fair, along with the postponement of the 2021 band trip until 2022. In 2022, the band plans to travel to Sydney, Australia, and according to Koenig, the food truck is “crucial to the trip’s feasibility.” 

Recently, the band has been holding other fundraising events, like concerts at Big Dipper Ice Cream throughout the month of May. As Koenig put it, “we need a lot of money for a lot of different things.” The Big Dipper concerts featured performances from a small jazz ensemble and a larger wind ensemble. All performances have been socially distanced, and according to Koenig, the audiences have really loved it.

The final concert will be Thurs. May 27, at 7 p.m. Funds raised from the Big Dipper concerts will be directed at the costs of the food truck. 

To support the campaign, you can search “Hellgate Band” on GoFundMe or scan the QR code below to donate.

Scan for the link to the GoFundMe fundraiser. Courtesy of October Moynahan.