MISSOULA — While Montana's food banks and pantries have managed to stabilize operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, there's growing concern how the growing number of cases and economic pressures could pose new challenges this winter.
When the pandemic first started last spring, there was a lot of concern about the impact on Montana's food lifelines, but the pantries and food banks adapted.
“Well, at this point in time things are pretty much stabilizing within the pantries. We haven't seen a lot of increase as far as clients coming in," said Montana Food Bank Network CEO Gayle Carlson.
Now and as winter sets in for good and the pandemic intensifies, more restrictions could mean more layoffs, and more hunger.
Operations remain at the highest level of security at the Montana Food Bank Network warehouse in Missoula and there's no shortage of supplies. In fact, MFBN has been handling more product as some other warehouses have faced quarantine.
“We are not doing any volunteers. However we do have some offsite locations that they are doing some assembly of food boxes so we've not been able to, you know, we've been able to keep up with that and not skipped a beat," Carlson told MTN News.
"Pantries are now going back to a little bit more of the client choice where they can come in and choose the product that they want. But others are still finding that they grab and go model as convenient for them and it helps them serve more people quickly," she continued.
But Carlson said winter always means economic pressures on Montanans struggling with hunger, and this year, special programs ending create what's being called a "commodity cliff".
“All of these programs, like Farmers to Families and a lot of other commodity programs, are going to be eliminated at the end of this year," she explained.
"So just after the holidays when everybody is going to be struggling, you know, all of their utilities are going to be going up, health care expenses, and so on. We won't have that little bit of buffer to lean on anymore.”
Since it's still difficult to take traditional donations now because of the precautions, the best way you can help MFBN, or your local pantry, is with cash donations.
“You know, even some pantries are still restricting their food drives. So really think about making a donation to your local pantry or to MFBN, because that's going to be able to get us the product that we need and the services that each community needs on their own," said Carlson.
One program that is up and running this fall is Hunters Against Hunger, where hunters can donate their wild game to help feed people in their communities. Last year hunters donated 50,000 of wild game.