Local food banks and distributors have not seen a sharp or sustained increase in demand since Gov. Steve Bullock issued the stay-at-home order in March due to COVID-19.
This came as a surprise to JeffCo Food Share President Cathy Dubois, as well as Cara Sacry, director with the Whitehall Area Food Pantry, with both wondering if folks are going elsewhere for food.
Sacry isn’t sure why requests haven’t increased due to the COVID-19 crisis other than people may not know about the service.
Helena Food Share Executive Director Bruce Day said his organization, which also serves Jefferson County, saw about a 30 percent increase in demand in the last two weeks of March, but that has since tapered off.
Bullock issued his stay-at-home order on March 26, with restrictions since beginning to ease on April 22.
The Rocky Mountain Development Council Inc. (Rocky) has seen some clients switch from taking meals at the Boulder-Basin Senior Center to home-delivered Meals on Wheels, but since the stay-at-home order, six new people have signed up for those particular services in Boulder and Whitehall, said Senior Nutrition and Transportation Program Director Rodney Applegate, adding that the number may change as the COVID-19 restrictions continue.
Currently, the state is in Phase 1 of Gov. Steve Bullock’s reopening plan, with restaurants, bars and casinos opening this week for inside dining, with some restrictions. Gatherings are limited to 10 people or less.
Rocky also administers the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which is age and income-based, said Applegate.
Applegate said that since the last distribution was March 22, and before the stay-at-home order was issued, the demand may increase.
“We may see a spike in those programs in our May distribution,” he said.
That distribution is scheduled for May 22 at the Boulder-Basin Senior Center and May 21 in Whitehall.
Over at Jefferson High School, Cassidy Parsons and her crew have been making up bags and boxes of food for families to pick up along with the meals served by the school during the shutdown.
Parsons said that the Panther Pantry has been passing out more boxes and bags, and that may be due to the convenience, since parents and students can get them while picking up their lunches.
As for why demand at the Helena Food Share has tapered off, Day has a few ideas.
He said that the amount of food the Helena Food Share gave out in March was generous, federal SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits may have kicked in and people have since received their federal CARES Act stimulus checks and deposits.
Day said demand is still brisk, but not like the initial rush in late March.
Typically, the Helena Food Share serves about 1,600 households on a regular basis, he said.
The Town Pump Charitable Foundation last month donated $1 million to Montana food pantries, and the Whitehall and Jeffco food pantries received a portion of those funds. The grant was an effort by the Foundation to address the strain on local food banks due to COVID-19, according to a Foundation press release.
JeffCo received $7,500 and Whitehall received $6,000, said Town Pump Charitable Foundation spokesman Bill McGladdery.
The donations were in addition to the annual Fall campaign, where each organization receives $5,000, said McGladdery.
Dubois said the JeffCo Food Pantry has plenty of supplies.
“We’re here and we have lots of food,” she said.
Day also urges those who are struggling to pay the rent to get help with food through Helena Food Share.
Meanwhile, there were 472 continued unemployment claims in Jefferson County for the week ending April 25, according to the Montana Department of Labor and Industry website.
The rate of new claims has fallen, from 111 new claims for the week ending April 18, to 53 new claims for the week ending April 25, according to the Department of Labor and Industry.
Jeffco Food Share — Open the third Thursday each month, noon to 3 p.m. at the Boulder Assembly of God, 502 N. Jackson in Boulder
Whitehall Food Bank — Open the second Tuesday of the month, 10-11 a.m. at Trinity United Methodist Church, 102 Brook St. in Whitehall
Helena Food Share — Visit the website at helenafoodshare.org for locations and hours or call 406-443-3663
The Rocky Mountain Development Council — Visit the website at rmdc.net or call 406-447-1680