BILLINGS — Billings St. Vincent de Paul has seen an increase in people using its services and asked for help Tuesday creating and packing about 120 sack lunches per day to distribute to the homeless and impoverished.
And one Billings Heights restaurant, Bull Mountain Grille, is stepping up to answer the call.
“We’re asking folks, if they would, to build sack lunches as they shelter in place ... that we can then hand out to those who either are homeless, living on the streets or maybe they’re living in poverty and just don’t have the resources to purchase food," said Craig Barthel, St. Vincent de Paul executive director.
St. Vincent de Paul has seen nearly double the people through its doors since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Before, they would give out between 70-90 meals per day. Now that number is closer to 120, and Barthel expects it to rise.
“A lot of new faces, that’s probably been the big surprise. We’re expecting that number of course to climb as COVID -19 continues and more people are maybe in jeopardy of losing their jobs, if they haven’t been laid off already. We may see more folks coming in," Barthel said.
Monday through Friday, the nonprofit gives out lunch, then sends people home with a sack dinner. And since the Montana Rescue Mission has been closed, St. Vincent De Paul has picked up the slack and started offering meals on the weekends.
The extra work is piled on to a shrinking staff. St. Vincent de Paul had to reduce its mostly volunteer staff from 21 to three.
"We’ve lost most of our staff. Most of them are at an age where they are high risk. So they are sheltering in place. So we’re relying on just a handful of volunteers to distribute these sack lunches. And that’s about all we have time to do, it seems like," Barthel said.
The remaining staff finds it tough to make and stuff all the sack lunches needed in a day.
"Building them is very, very difficult. We need a lot of people to do that, especially with the numbers. And we’re seeing about 120 sack lunches go out a day. It’s a daunting task for one or two people to put that together each and every day, seven days a week," Barthel said.
Barthel said St. Vincent de Paul needs help from the community.
"So we’re a little bit concerned. We certainly have enough sack lunches each and every day, God willing. But we are concerned and needing help from the community just to provide us with even more sack lunch items," Barthel said.
Restaurant management at Billings Bull Mountain Grille heard the nonprofit needed a hand. On Monday, restaurant staff prepared about 100 sack lunches that were distributed by St. Vincent de Paul.
"Actually, our landlord was one of the proponents of helping us get set up with St. Vincent de Paul. And doing what we can to make some sack lunches when we can and take them down ... We just want to spread the word to others that if they are looking to help, I know they could use help with that," said Shannon Schaefer, restaurant manager at Bull Mountain Grille.
Schaefer said she's been with the restaurant for 10 years.
Since Montana Gov. Steve Bullock's order to close restaurants back in March, Bull Mountain Grille had to lay off a majority of its staff. Schaefer said they had 30 staff members and reduced to 12.
“It’s definitely a scary time, but we’ve had amazingly loyal guests that have kept our doors open. We’ve had to lay off more than half of the staff right now. We’re just doing takeout, obviously, with delivery through Uber Eats and Door Dash. We’re hanging in there," Schaefer said.
When the time is right, Shaefer said she would like to hire back her staff.
"We’re waiting to bring everybody back as soon as we can,” Schaefer said.
If people want to make sack lunches at home, there are a few criteria to follow to do the most good. Food should be non perishable and not spoil in the heat. That means no mayonnaise or meats on sandwiches. Peanut butter and jelly is a good option instead.
Sack lunches may also contain a bottle of water, something with protein like a granola bar and soft fruits like oranges and bananas.
“Families can put these together. I think bringing us sack lunches in quantities of 12 works really well. We can deal with quantities of 12, certainly more. You know, Bull Mountain Grille, bless their hearts. They’ve committed, I think, to 120 sack lunches each and every week. Which basically takes care of one of our days," Barthel said.
Drop offs can be made at the Billings St. Vincent de Paul at 3005 1st Ave. S. Arrangements can be made by emailing Craig Barthel at email@example.com.
People don't even have to get out of their cars to make drop offs, Barthel said. Contact him for further instructions, he said.