Entering busiest time of the year now, food bank will host food and coat drive
By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER
The community need for Big Sky’s food bank more than tripled in the summer of 2022 compared to the prior summer. For all seasons, overall need grew by 60% from 2021.
“In the past, data shows that most people used the food bank once, twice, maybe three times a year,” said Sarah Gaither Bivins, the food bank’s operations manager and services navigator. “Now, in this current climate, people just can’t make it through the end of the month on their paycheck. Before COVID, we used to allow people to shop once a month—not that we ever turned anyone away. Now, you can shop up to once a week if you need to.”
Senior citizens have shown a particular increase in visitation, Bivins said, and almost half of their customers work in Big Sky but live in Bozeman, Belgrade, or even Amsterdam and Manhattan.
“The workforce can no longer live here, you know,” she said.
She clarified that, while the 250% increase still indicates a crucial need, that statistic is also inflated by the vast growth in Big Sky’s summer tourism, which has brought more summer jobs to serve the growing interest in mountain biking and hiking.
The Big Sky Community Food Bank and Resource Center is part of the Montana Food Bank Network and located just north of Big Sky on U.S. Highway 191. Anyone is welcome to grab food once per week, and new visitors will be asked to record basic demographic information. Bivins said it’s helpful that the site is located away from Town Center, as food security is a sensitive issue. But as inflation on consumer goods and cost of living continues to challenge many Big Sky residents, visiting the food bank has become more common since 2020.
Fall is the busiest season, Bivins said. Many winter seasonal employees arrive early, often having cut into their savings to move and facing limited opportunities to work full-time hours as ski tourism builds slowly into December.
On Oct. 22, the food bank will prepare for a busy season with their annual Great Pumpkin Giveaway, a canned food drive. Bivins and her staff spread a patch of pumpkins around Fire Pit Park in Town Center, allowing families to choose a pumpkin in exchange for a food donation.
“In the past we haven’t really pushed the canned food drive part,” she said. “This year, we’re trying to say, you know, 10 to 15 cans would be really nice to have. Get a case of soup at COSTCO and bring it in exchange for a pumpkin.”
Bivins has seen a decrease in canned food donations in the past year.
These canned options are especially valuable as many food bank visitors only have access to a microwave to cook with. Ace Hardware in Big Sky donates 100 crockpots every year to help provide another cooking tool.
Many winter employees also move here without realizing how frigid the weather becomes, she said. The bank accepts coats and winter clothing and holds an annual coat drive in late fall.
“We don’t need children’s coats,” she said. “People spend their money on kids first. But [parents will] get stuff for themselves here, for sure.”
For the last year, the food bank has offered services including laundry for a $1 per load, and access to a computer and printer. These services are open during regular hours, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Wednesdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m.
Anyone can also schedule an appointment to sit down with Bivins and complete applications for food stamps under the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), the statewide low-income energy assistance program (LIEAP), and receive support with job applications.
Bivins is the only full-time staff member, with two part-time employees and other volunteer opportunities available.