GREAT FALLS — Hundreds of cars wrapped around the Holiday Village Mall parking lot and neighboring streets in wait of a free box of fresh produce on Thursday afternoon during the kick-off of the Salvation Army’s weekly relief box giveaway.
The produce box distribution marked the first of a five-month weekly giveaway in which anyone can receive a free box of produce. The 1,500 boxes included numerous items, including potatoes, yellow onions, apples, oranges, yams or sweet potatoes, stonefruit, strawberries, broccoli and carrots mix, and bell peppers. The 'Farmers To Families' event is scheduled to take place take place every week through October.
This program is part of Congress’ recently passed Coronavirus Farm Assistance Program, which allows the United States Department of Agriculture under authority of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to buy and distribute goods to people in need of assistance.
The Montana Food Bank Network selected The Salvation Army in Great Falls to be one of the state’s distribution partners.
Mark King of the Salvation Army in Great Falls said that despite the heavy traffic, the crowds reacted positively: “I have not had one complaint in anybody who's had to wait in a vehicle and we have been checking anywhere between 25 minutes to 45, maybe even upwards [of] an hour. But so far, you know, morale is up and all the comments are positive,” King said.
He added that they do plan to make adjustments as they prepare for more events like this in the future: “We always want to make it better, more efficient than when we start. We’re going to meet with our partners in the community in the next day or so."
KRTV received several messages about the traffic in the parking lot and the surrounding area:
- All traffic is stopped and there's hundreds of people walking around; 40 minute drive from target to riddles jewlery
- Kristin English: It’s absolutely insane! Probably not the ideal place for this!
- Dena Wouters: It was crazy. I was stuck in it for half an hour!!!
- Michaela Simmons: It was terrible! I couldn’t even get to work!
The Great Falls Police Department said in a Facebook post that event organizers are working to "come up with a distribution solution that does not create traffic hazards in the future."
For those who are concerned about the wait time and are considering coming early next week, King respectfully asks that attendees only come at the listed event times. “We really don’t want anybody coming earlier than when we’re ready to set up because that causes congestion in traffic. We really need the time that we ask for to set up so that we can run traffic the way that we need to,” King said, “We just need everybody to be patient, to be pleasant, and if possible, carpool!”
Also, in order to continue providing these boxes, Salvation Army needs a refrigerated trailer to keep the food boxes fresh during distributions. If you would like to volunteer a refrigerated trailer or donate to the Salvation Army of Great Falls so they can rent one, call King at 406-453-0391, extension 224. You can also contact the agency on its Facebook page.
Some of the contributors that made the first relief box distribution possible include:
- Holiday Village Mall - provided venue for distribution
- Cascade County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) - traffic control
- Community Organizations Active in Disasters (COAD) - helped with distribution
- K & K Trucking of Great Falls - provided refrigerated trailer to keep produce from spoiling