The following blog series by Montana Food Bank Network Volunteer Coordinator Elizabeth Weaver shares a little more insight to hunger issues in Montana, and why we’ve chosen to champion this cause.
What does hunger in Montana look like?
We all know that Montana is the Last Best Place, but for nearly 14% of our fellow statesman, this is not the case. 139,000 Montanans face hunger today without consistent access to affordable food. One out of every five of these are kids.
How is this possible given Montana’s rich history of agriculture production? The answer to that question is: it’s complicated. We all know Montana is a big state that is sparsely populated (which is why we love it), but when it comes to feeding people, its sheer size is an obstacle.
This spring, I visited eastern Montana as part of the Montana Food Bank Network’s Client Hunger Survey. Every other year we conduct this survey at food pantries in a dozen selected communities around the state. We chat with the clients visiting the food banks and ask them a series of questions to collect data that provides a true snapshot of hunger in our state. From chatting with folks in communities like Glendive and Wolf Point and Wibaux and Broadus I learned a lot about hunger in Montana.
I learned that remote communities are difficult for a convenient and centralized store to take root.
Freight of products to such locations cause the final price of the item to be too high for the customer to afford. Carmen from Broadus shared with me that their tiny town is mostly seniors who have trouble getting to the grocery store outside the town's tiny IGA, which is too expensive for a retiree on a fixed income to shop at. The majority of the clients who access the Powder River Senior Center’s food pantry or emergency food box program are senior citizens. The same is true for neighboring towns.
I learned that many food pantry clients are working or are looking for work.
Some were even looking for a second job because their first job was only part time or they were not making enough to make ends meet. One client in Glendive told me that medical bills contributed to his need to utilize the food pantry. It was not an isolated incident either. What I learned was that when faced with the predicament between paying bills/rent/ medicine and paying for food, many households opt to pay the bills first.
I learned public nutrition programs are helpful but often don’t last long enough.
Senior Food Commodities can be limited in what foods are offered and seniors often have to drive or walk to the designated location to pick up those commodities. SNAP and WIC benefits are great at providing more access to needed food, but these benefits are often inadequate and don’t last past the middle of the month. Free and Reduced Priced School Breakfast and Lunch programs are great at feeding kids and making sure their tummies are full so they can concentrate in the classroom. However, these programs only operate when school is in session so dinner, weekends, and school breaks, kids have to find alternative resources for their meals.
The most important thing I learned was how hopeful and grateful people were for their local food bank or pantry.
These organizations are making a difference in the lives of our neighbors. Through the hard work of local food pantries and schools and community programs, food is being distributed in more communities across Montana than ever before. Thanks to the support of individuals and organizations like yourself, we are gaining ground in our fight against hunger and one step closer to ending hunger in Montana.
Elizabeth Weaver is the Development/Volunteer Coordinator for the Montana Food Bank Network, based in Missoula. As the only statewide food bank, the Montana Food Bank Network solicits, sorts, repackages, warehouses, and distributes donated and purchased food to charitable programs that directly serve hungry Montanans. From a main warehouse and office in Missoula, MFBN distributes emergency food across the state through a network of over 150 Partner Agencies.