Families are facing a food crisis, and soon so will food banks

Mary Lehman | Montana Food Bank Network

As we head into the holiday season, we at the Montana Food Bank Network (MFBN) are reflecting on all that we have to be thankful for, along with the heartache and unprecedented challenges of the past year. Since March, Montana Food Bank Network, our local partners, and Feeding America’s nationwide network of food banks have been at the frontlines, helping our neighbors weather unimaginable conditions including the largest public health crisis in a century, staggering unemployment numbers, and a 50-year high for grocery prices. And yet, as we continue to serve our communities over the months ahead, we face a looming decline in the food available to Montana’s food pantries. This decline could make it harder to ensure that no one in our state goes hungry.

As we head into the holiday season, we at the Montana Food Bank Network (MFBN) are reflecting on all that we have to be thankful for, along with the heartache and unprecedented challenges of the past year. Since March, Montana Food Bank Network, our local partners, and Feeding America’s nationwide network of food banks have been at the frontlines, helping our neighbors weather unimaginable conditions including the largest public health crisis in a century, staggering unemployment numbers, and a 50-year high for grocery prices. And yet, as we continue to serve our communities over the months ahead, we face a looming decline in the food available to Montana’s food pantries. This decline could make it harder to ensure that no one in our state goes hungry.

As several significant but temporary USDA programs conclude at the end of 2020, food banks are anticipating a possible 50 percent decline in USDA foods next year – as the pandemic and economic downturn continue with no end in sight. Less food on pantry shelves puts people at risk of being turned away without the help they need.

Every year, the USDA helps move billions of pounds of healthy food from farmers to food banks to families, helping to ensure less food goes to waste and, instead, fuels students for school and helps cash-strapped seniors keep their plates full. However, under current policy, USDA will scale back food support for food banks in 2021, spelling a potential disaster for our ability to continue meeting the needs of our neighbors and communities.

There are few easy answers for decisionmakers as they try to navigate this public health and economic emergency – but the steep decline in food to Montana’s food banks is unique in that the answer is right in front of us. During a time of historic need, and when buying food is more difficult and expensive, the USDA has a critical opportunity to support food banks and the thousands of people we serve by utilizing its authority to make additional food purchases.

Tens of thousands of Montana households utilize food pantries to make ends meet each month. As a result of COVID, thousands more families are facing hunger and poverty, with the potential for lifelong consequences to health, educational attainment, and economic productivity. The USDA cannot miss this opportunity to provide basic nutrition to families and individuals in need, helping our nation recover from this crisis healthier and stronger than before.

Mary Lehman of Great Falls is the board chair for the Montana Food Bank Network.

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