KALISPELL — Food banks in Northwest Montana saw food distribution numbers increase dramatically this past year as this week marks the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In fact, we had a new record the other week where we had 15 households in five minutes that we were able to serve,” Flathead Food Bank in Kalispell Director Jamie Quinn said.
She added that her team evolved rapidly when the pandemic started last March, moving to all curbside pickup to promote social distancing and safe practices.
“So, it took away a lot of that burden of that community of touching that we’re so used to, but it really became pretty quick and easy for us once we got up and running because we can process cars through very, very quickly here,” Quinn said.
North Valley Food Bank Director of Development MaryBeth Morand says the need for the Whitefish food bank's services has increased dramatically since the beginning of the pandemic.
“Now we’ve got almost 500 people a week just here in our drive-thru and then on top of that we have mobile pantries and then we’re running trucks up throughout the northern Flathead,” Morand told MTN News.
The Flathead Food Bank in Kalispell saw distribution increase from 1.5 million pounds of food in 2019 to 3.4 million pounds in 2020. Meanwhile, the North Valley Food Bank in Whitefish served 30,000 people in 2020, 12,000 more people than in 2019.
“And I think the people that we serve, they’re going to be the slowest to recover from COVID, so I think our numbers are probably not going to plateau for a while,” Monrad said.
Quinn says the number of volunteers at the Flathead Food Bank was cut drastically in the last year from 1,000 down to 500 due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“Those volunteers that came that were in that 500 or so were mostly people that were coming repeatedly, meaning that they were here multiple times a week, so because they stepped up, we didn’t really feel a major loss,” Quinn said.
Quinn added that local food banks have helped neighboring counties during the pandemic, delivering 60,000 pounds of food to the Blackfeet Nation in September during their 14-day emergency lockdown.
“How do we look at feeding our neighbors and it should be one of the most important things that we always ensure people have food especially in the United States of America, people should not ever have to wonder where their next meal is going to come from,” Quinn stated.
Quinn expects curbside pickup to continue at food banks in the Flathead for the next six months. Meanwhile, both the Flathead and North Valley food banks are currently undergoing expansion projects.