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Making it in Big Sky: Big Sky Community Food Bank



Gaither Bivins and her fellow Big Sky Community Food Bank co-workers practice social distancing, while providing food for Big Sky. PHOTO COURTESY OF SARAH GAITHER BIVINS

By Brandon Walker EBS LOCAL EDITOR

Editor’s note: As local businesses adjust to the ongoing restrictions and guidelines relating to COVID-19, EBS will feature businesses and organizations that are doing everything in their power to continue responsibly serving Big Sky.

BIG SKY – Since 2012, the Big Sky Community Food Bank has been lending a helping hand to those in need, but in the unprecedented time in which we currently reside, they have continued to go above and beyond for the Big Sky community.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak there was only one paid employee working—part-time—for the Big Sky Community Food Bank: operations manager and services navigator, Sarah Gaither Bivins. Gaither Bivins recently received reinforcements as operations assistants Laine Hegness and Candice Brownmiller joined the team to ensure the food bank can meet the extra demand.

“All three of us are really dedicated to confidentiality and we all know what it’s like to be in an emergency and have to use the food bank, so there’s no judgment,” Gaither Bivins said. “You might have seen us around Big Sky for years, [you’ve] been our friends and neighbors and we’re going to keep your information confidential and you should feel welcome coming to the food bank.”

A more than six-year veteran with the Big Sky food bank, Gaither Bivins recently spoke with EBS over the phone to discuss her adjusted role as she and her co-workers assist the Big Sky community with its food needs throughout the pandemic.

Explore Big Sky: What adjustments have you made to address COVID-19 guidelines?

Sarah Gaither Bivins: We have now moved to a drive-up model to keep [with] social distancing. So, we have moved to pre-packed boxes and we take it out and give it to you in your car…We also went to being open four days a week, rather than just two. Again to kind of spread people out [and] give them more opportunities to come and so hopefully not everybody’s crowding in at the same day…The three of us who are working take our temperature before we get there, we wear our gloves, we’re sanitizing probably every 20 minutes…My mom just sent us some face masks this week, so we’ll start to use those.

EBS: How has your daily work routine been impacted by COVID-19?

S.G.B.: This used to be a part-time job. I was only working 20 hours a week. I now have a full-time job. I now work 40 hours and have two employees, so that’s kind of how my life has been impacted…For years I lived in Big Sky and now I live in Bozeman, but I’ve been driving to Big Sky every single day to either deliver food or work at the food bank or whatever. 

EBS: Since the pandemic began, how many meals has the food bank been able to provide to members of the community to date?

S.G.B.: I measure things in two different ways. One measurement is how many food boxes we’ve given, and one measurement is actually how many individuals we served. So, in a typical year, we’ll serve about 600 individuals…In a typical off-season I’ll serve about 40 food boxes to families. The week after [March] 13, when it became clear everything was closing, we gave out 86, so it more than doubled. The following week was about 56 food boxes and last week was about 35. So, I think we’re definitely seeing the initial rush of people who were trying to get food just before they left town has subsided.

EBS: What does it mean to you to play such a vital role in the community currently?

S.G.B.: It’s really been lovely to be so supported. The first phone call I got was from Danny [Bierschwale] at resort tax, just kind of letting me know that there would be support from them and then after that we started getting donations. We started getting help from BSCO with their volunteer management. We’ve been working with WIA to put together this resource guide for Big Sky…I don’t feel like it’s my role that’s so vital. I think that we are all doing a really wonderful job of meeting people’s needs. I definitely wouldn’t be able to do it without the support of the community [and] everybody kind of stepping up to help out wherever they can.

EBS: What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?

S.G.B.: Actually, this is so pertinent for these last few weeks. My mom always used to say ‘you don’t have to like it, you just have to do it’ and she would say that when I was doing chores or whatever, but I think it’s really something that I’ve clung to these last few weeks, like yeah this isn’t fun, but we’re all in the same boat and we just have to do it.

EBS: Anything else?

S.G.B.: I think it’s a misunderstanding that people think they have to qualify to use the food bank and you absolutely don’t. There’s no qualifications, if you feel like you are in a food emergency you should just come down.

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