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The latest news about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 in Montana.

Montana Food Banks Seek Donations As Demand Spikes Due To Coronavirus


Pressure is mounting on Montana’s food pantries. The demand for their food assistance is spiking as more people find themselves out of work due to the spread of COVID-19. Food banks need help and need it now.

The numbers are eye-openers.

Helena Food Share Executive Director Bruce Day says that by yesterday the pantry provided 600 emergency food boxes, "Which is a higher number than we would normally experience, by probably 100, easily," he says.

Gallatin Valley Food Bank is experiencing similar demand, according to Montana Food Bank Network CEO Gayle Carlson. She says they’ve seen an increase in visitation each day this week. And at the same time, food donations from grocery stores are dropping.

"And one of the things that is dramatically affecting their inventory right now is the fact that they no longer have retail donations, which is something that typically they get on a daily, weekly basis."

Missoula’s Poverello Center homeless shelter typically gathers 8,000 to 13,000 pounds of food from grocery stores to serve up to 600 meals a day out of its soup kitchen.

Spokesman Jesse Jaeger says that makes up the vast majority of the meals served in the Pov’s soup kitchen.

"I was just talking to our kitchen manager, and it’s about 50 percent down from what we normally get in."

He says that’s largely due to ongoing panic-buying and hoarding in our grocery stores. While there’s no shortage of food, some store shelves continue to be stripped clean of food and various cleaning and sanitary products.

Jaeger says if this continues, "It could become a real problem, real fast."

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox, who’s also seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination, says, “Because the pandemic has started to impact the livelihoods of some Montanans, we anticipate that the need for nutritional assistance will be greater than ever."

Montana’s food pantries, meanwhile, are limiting social interaction by switching-up distribution models. Market-style settings are being replaced with food box pickups. Montana Food Bank Network CEO Gayle Carlson says financial donations are frequently the best way to help immediate and long-term needs.

"The donations that you give right now will be used towards the purchase of additional reserves so that we can make sure those pantries are stocked as full as they need to be and then also to help us with our distribution costs."

Missoula’s Poverello Center also welcomes cash donations.

Other items are also needed, including noodles, rice, potatoes, meat, produce, non-perishable canned food and sandwich making supplies. Cleaning supplies and toilet paper are also high on the Pov’s wish list.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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