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Montana Food banks are struggling as demand grows and donations shrink

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Food banks and pantries across Montana are experiencing unprecedented demand for their services while they are receiving fewer donations. That leaves food banks struggling to maintain services.

The Montana Food Bank Network, which distributes food to hundreds of providers across the state, is now serving more than 41,000 households, an all-time high, which is explained by CEO Brent Weisgram.

“We’re 50% higher than we were last year at this time and we’re 25% higher than we were at the height of the pandemic. It’s a trend that’s really alarming.”

That increase in demand is attributed to inflation’s impact on low and fixed-income households.

Weisgram says donations to these organizations have also been trending down while inflation simultaneously chips away at their buying power. Some food banks also report that with fewer items on grocery store shelves, it’s getting harder to recover near expired food, which supplies the bulk of supplies for many food bank and pantries.

Executive director of the Great Falls Community Food Bank, Shawn Tatarka, says that all of this means it’s getting harder to maintain the same level of service.

“We’re looking at taking funds out of our reserves for the first time since I’ve been here.”

Tatarka and other food bank operators say that if things don’t improve, they will have to make hard decisions about reducing the amount of food each shopper receives. He and others are calling out for those who have never donated to their local food bank to do so if they can.

Aaron graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Journalism in 2015 after interning at Minnesota Public Radio. He landed his first reporting gig in Wrangell, Alaska where he enjoyed the remote Alaskan lifestyle and eventually moved back to the road system as the KBBI News Director in Homer, Alaska. He joined the MTPR team in 2019. Aaron now reports on all things in northwest Montana and statewide health care.