MISSOULA — When the job market tanked in 2020, forcing families to reevaluate finances, food insecurity across America exploded into a bigger issue than ever before.
The Missoula Food Bank felt the pressure immediately.
“Unfortunately, we were a growth industry before the pandemic, you know, we tend to be busier today than we were yesterday, in an ongoing way,” said executive director Aaron Brock.
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Back in 2019, the Missoula Food Bank and its 400 weekly volunteers saw nearly 27,000 people walk through their doors, and that was before the pandemic.
“Last year more than 36,000 separate individuals walked through our doors. That's close to 20% busier than we were in calendar year 2019,” said Brock.
These numbers paint a devastating picture for the Missoula community. “So many families are hurting a little more than they were a year ago,” said Brock.
When our citizens turned to the food bank for food security, Brock said they didn’t have time to panic, they only had time to act.
“It really was March 13 of last year...That was a day that we all realized this is happening, this is happening right now and we need to adjust our distribution immediately. So, we spent that entire weekend setting up a whole new distribution model that's been grab and go now for an entire year.”
What once operated as a free grocery store with items on shelves, shifted to quick interactions with volunteers, grabbing a pre-loaded shopping cart based on family size, and hitting the road.
“The idea is that if I need groceries, I'm really only in the food bank for 30 or 45 seconds,” said Brock.
If it weren’t for an outpouring of donations, Brock said the food bank’s supply wouldn’t have met the demand.
“There were so many generous Missoulians and folks in this region who stepped up and said, ‘As you're dealing with how to respond, let's make sure that you don't worry about having enough money to buy the food that you need,’ So yeah, a really wonderful philanthropic response that helped us meet needs in a challenging time.”