Montana Food Bank Network’s Response to COVID-19

Over the past three months, Montana Food Bank Network has been working hard to address the changing needs of our network partners and neighbors struggling with food insecurity in our state.  Much has changed since the impacts of coronavirus were first felt by Montanans.  One thing that has not changed during this time is Montanans supporting each other and our community.  We have seen such an outpouring of support that we are humbled to be able to do the work that you have deemed vital during this time.  

Here is what we know about the need in Montana:

  • Due to businesses closing or changing their business model, the unemployment rate in Montana jumped from 3.5% in February to 11.3% in April[1].  While businesses are currently reopening under the Governor’s Phase 2 directives, many are returning to work at reduced hours, if they are able to return at all.
  • MFBN’s network partners overall report nearly 10,000 more visits to access emergency food assistance in April 2020 than in April 2019
    • Partners also report the largest increase in visits is in Montana’s seven largest counties, mainly due to closure of most service-industry employers in those areas. Demand in these areas has increased anywhere from 30% – 60% depending on the partner.
    • Demand in rural areas has increased up to 20%.  MFBN also knows from national data that rural areas are seeing a delay in the impacts of coronavirus so we anticipate a growing impact on our rural partners in the coming months.
  • Closure of schools and congregate meal sites such as senior centers has resulted in a lack of resources for some of Montana’s most vulnerable populations who rely on meals provided by those institutions to eat every day.  This has put a further strain on families who may have already been struggling to put food on the table or on those who have suddenly faced a loss of income.
  • Food donated to MFBN and network partners decreased 24.4% in April 2020, with 242,465 fewer meals donated than in April 2019, largely due to decline in our Grocery Rescue program. Grocery Rescue has in the past contributed as much as 80% of the food distributed to MFBN’s network partners.

Montana Food Bank Network responded to this need by distributing 123,575 more pounds of food in April 2020 than April 2019.  We have increased our operations this dramatically thanks to the help and support of our partners and donors across the state whose gifts enabled us to:

  • Purchase new pallet jacks for our warehouse team and hire an additional temp worker to assist with warehouse operations that are now lacking volunteer support.
  • Purchase a new semi-truck to increase our distribution schedule from every six weeks to every four weeks.
  • Purchase as much shelf-stable, prepackaged food as possible to ensure that our partners can remain stocked throughout this crisis.
  • Establish new relationships with local and regional food producers and manufacturers to ensure that they have an outlet for their goods, creating a space for food banks in the regular food distribution chain.

However, we still continue to face challenges and as we look to the future, we know the hard work is not over.  Statewide projections from our national partner, Feeding America, say that as many as 165,000 Montanans may face hunger this year, an increase of 56,000, due to the coronavirus pandemic.  After years of declining, Montana’s food insecurity rate could reach 15.5 percent – a staggering 51 percent increase. 

In addition, MFBN faces similar issues in food sourcing to food banks across the country during this time when our nation’s food systems are disrupted, including:

  • The cost of pantry staples is increasing dramatically, for example, the cost of peanut butter is up 45% from pre-COVID prices.
  • Food orders are delayed by up to 6 weeks and many shipments are being cancelled altogether.
  • Due to lack of volunteers, MFBN is sourcing pre-packed meals in family sizes at a higher rate.

Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, MFBN saw a yearly increase in food distribution across the state and we know that will continue to be the trend in the years to come. This crisis led MFBN to change and adapt our service model to ensure that everyone in our state has access emergency food when they need it.  Through this work, MFBN realized that we were prepared to pivot our operations at this time when we are needed most, thanks to the support of our partners and donors across the state.  We are looking forward and making plans to ensure that we can continue to be nimble and ready to face any more crises that come our way. 

If you would like to get involved and lend a hand to Montanans in need, please contact us or visit our donate page. 


[1] Seasonally adjusted, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (https://www.bls.gov/eag/eag.mt.htm)




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