KALISPELL - It’s the busiest stretch of the year for food banks in Northwest Montana as pantries work tirelessly to keep their shelves stocked this holiday season.
But it’s not just the holidays that have been busy as food banks have seen record-setting demand throughout the entire year.
In August, the Flathead Food Bank in Kalispell served 2,800 households at the food pantry alone, that’s 1,000 more households served than in August of 2021.
The North Valley Food Bank in Whitefish has seen an 81% increase in pantry visits this year, including more than 700 new families using their services.
We talked with a retired Whitefish resident on a fixed income who has volunteered at the food bank for years.
“Nothing about are you worthy? Because they feel everyone is worthy if they need food to supplement,” said Evelyn Drews who now, relies on the food bank to get by.
Evelyn has lived in Whitefish for 30 years and recently retired after working many jobs in Glacier National Park.
She’s now on a fixed income and relies on the North Valley Food Bank to get by.
“I go in, they say hello, they’re glad to see me and I’m glad to be there, and I know I’m going to get some good healthy food that will help me to stay healthy,” Evelyn told MTN News.
Evelyn has seen the demand for food bank services skyrocket firsthand, she doesn’t know how some families would survive without this resource.
“The need has just exploded because of COVID to start, and rising gas prices, rising rent, rising daycare, it’s hard to make the choice, where do I cut to keep in my budget.”
Flathead Food Bank Executive Director Jamie Quinn says food banks are seeing a steep rise in visits from working-class households, as the cost of living continues to rise.
“That is what concerns me. We’re happy to feed them, we’re here to feed them. But what is it saying about us fundamentally as a society if we’re having households with two parents that are working and still can’t afford to feed one or two kids on top of their rent and their regular food prices?”
North Valley Food Bank Executive Director Sophie Albert says the increase in food bank visits year-over-year has been eye-opening.
“There’s a lot of people coming more often this year, but we’re also seeing a lot of new families due to gas prices, inflation, just from last year to this year, food consumed at home has gone up 13% in price.”
Evelyn says anyone who feels food insecure shouldn’t hesitate to stop by a local food bank, adding it’s a stress-free easy experience each visit.
“And they make everyone feel welcome, and I think people feel good when they leave, you know it’s a community, let’s build community, and they’re doing that and helping everyone.”
Evelyn — who has volunteered at North Valley Food Bank off and on for decades — is asking people to volunteer or donate funds if they have the means.
“You’re helping your neighbors, you know that’s a Montana tradition, we help each other,” Evelyn concluded.
Information about how to help the North Valley Food Bank can be found at https://www.northvalleyfoodbank.org/.
Information about helping the Flathead Food Bank can be found at https://flatheadfoodbank.org/.