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Montana’s food banks under immense strain, face double-edged sword

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“Town Crier” newsletter – Briefs from the Region (2) – 4/28/20

According to the Montana Free Press, the Montana Food Bank Network—which distributes food to 167 partners across the state—has shipped some 1.6 million meals to Montana food pantries in the last month, half a million more than during the same period last year. Anecdotally, pantries in the “big seven” Montana cities have seen between 30 to 60 percent increases in needs compared to a typical period, with rural pantries seeing a jump of between 10 to 20 percent. Certain locations have been hit particularly hard: “Visits to the Food Resource Center in Livingston have increased by 300% since mid-March. In the last two weeks of March alone, the Missoula Food Bank provided food to 500 households that had never used the resource before,” reports MTFP. Soaring demand is just one side of the coin: that very same demand, coupled with disruptions to the supply chain, has spiked pricing on stables. For example, a case of peanut butter currently costs 45 percent more than pre-pandemic rates. And as people have turned to home cooking, out of necessity due to restaurant closures, the consumer supply chain has been tapped to a point where shelves are often left empty; in turn, grocery markets have no surplus available for donations to local pantries. Michael McCormick, director of the Livingston Food Resource Center, contends the issue falls squarely on poorly developed local food systems—in other words, a troubling reliance on far-flung warehouses.

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