Before the Coronavirus became a global pandemic, a large percentage of our population were making it work. Their paychecks were enough to cover monthly bills, groceries, a dinner out with the family and, as long as no emergencies arose, a small portion into savings. They may have volunteered or even donated to their local food pantry but had rarely, if ever, been to the point of needing to utilize the pantry for food assistance.
Now our world has shifted. Navigating the waters during the Coronavirus pandemic has caused Montanans everywhere to reevaluate, shift priorities, and may ultimately cause some Montanans to sink instead of swim. Since the closure of the schools, families have been forced to stretch their resources to make up for the loss of school meals, or else get to the pick-up point for daily sack lunches provided by the school. Grocery store shelves are emptied just hours after being fully stocked, another shipment not expected for days. Our high risk seniors and immune -compromised Montanans have shuttered themselves indoors, meaning little access to healthy, fresh foods. While senior programs are doing their best to offer home delivered meals in place of congregate options, these resources are not available in all communities to all at-risk individuals, leaving many folks at greater risk of hunger.
With Governor Bullock’s stay-at-home order, non-essential businesses have closed their doors and some have been forced to lay off workers. These workers will plan out meals with the food they already have in their cupboards, clip coupons, cut portion sizes, water down their soups and do whatever they can to make their last paycheck stretch as far as humanly possible. And then when there is no other option, they will venture into uncharted territory and visit the food pantry.
In the first weeks of the Coronavirus pandemic, food pantries across Montana saw significant increases in the number of people reaching out for help. For many Montanans, this was their first experience seeking assistance. As long as the stay-at-home order is in place and businesses continue to be closed, Montana Food Bank Network expects the number of people seeking food assistance to continue to grow as many Montanans deplete their savings in the next weeks and possibly months.
Last year, Montana Food Bank Network’s retail donation program, Grocery Rescue, donated 9 million pounds of food to Network partners through relationships with local grocery stores and markets. Panic-buying has caused these retail donations, to drop to nearly nothing, leaving our Network partner food pantries with little choice but to purchase staple foods that were once donated from grocery stores. At Montana Food Bank Network, we have been working to source and purchase nutritious foods in quantities two to three times the amount we normally would. We have also increased the frequency of deliveries, when needed, to help to ensure that our partner food pantries are able to continue to meet the needs of their communities.
If you or someone you know is struggling to put food on the table, there are many resources across Montana available to you. You can find a map of all Montana Food Bank Network partners here. We urge you to call your local pantry to inquire about receiving food as pantry hours and distributions have been altered during the pandemic. There is also additional resources available with information on applying for SNAP benefits, WIC, and other programs that are available during this time.
Raising funds to continue this work is vital for the stability of our emergency food resources. Food donations are dropping, demand is increasing and many pantries have stopped utilizing volunteers to ensure the safety of their foods and staff. This leaves very little time for staff to focus on any other task beyond distributing food. We urge anyone with the ability to make a donation at this time to join us as we step up to meet the needs of our communities, families, and friends across Montana. You can make a donation here. Your donation will help increase our buying power to provide the most food and meals to those who are in need right now. It is only through the support and hard work of our Network of partners, supporters, volunteers and donors that we will be able to lift each other up and weather this storm together.
Together, we will emerge on the other side stronger.