MISSOULA — Facing a 200% increase in demand for food assistance during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Montana's local agencies, volunteers, and businesses mounted an astonishing response.
The Montana Food Bank Network's (MFBN) newly-released Montana Hunger Report gives the first overall view of how the coronavirus outbreak is impacting MFBN's distribution of food and the numbers are remarkable.
Through the MFBN's 346 partner agencies -- like food pantries, homeless shelters, senior centers, and school programs -- food distribution topped 19 million pounds in 2020. That's far above the 14 million pounds in 2019, and the 8 million pounds just five years ago.
"The fact that we were able to get our agencies up to speed quickly enough so that they could meet that need, kudos to them. I mean, overnight they were having to change their distribution models, doing it with less volunteers because a lot of their volunteers are elderly, so they were hesitant to come out and do that in the general public," MFBN CEO Gayle Carlson said. "So there was just a lot of challenges involved in that. The fact that the number of people could be served is phenomenal."
The number of clients served, just counting adults, soared to more than 33,000 people in March, compared to less than 20,000 the year before.
While Carlson says successful programs like "Mail-a-Meal" are helping to fill the gaps, she's worried about the pandemic's on-going impact, especially with unemployment, and people still coping with lingering financial problems.