BILLINGS — The Billings Food Bank is seeking donations and volunteers to staff food delivery and distribution for the holiday for the holiday season, said CEO Sheryle Shandy Monday.
The food bank is stocking up for the holiday season and beyond to accommodate a need that Shandy said could increase as the COVID-19 pandemic wears on. While the food bank has been seeing many new faces over the past months, many people have COVID-19-related troubles that may worsen in future months.
"The stimulus packages and a lot of the government help that has been coming to newly laid off or newly lost businesses or whatever COVID situation they are in, have been really generous. So, we’ve not really seen the full impact of what our new realities are going to be," Shandy said.
Shandy said the talk across the national food bank community is on expanding services so the food banks can be ready if they see another large wave of people needing food. Shandy said some food banks across the country were caught unprepared at the start of the pandemic, but Billings has thus far been able to weather the storm.
“This has taught us a good lesson. We had a good supply of food before this happened, so we weren’t hit as hard as some food banks that were totally unprepared when this happened. We’ve eaten into our reserves now. We’ve built them back up and we’re expanding our programs," Shandy said.
Since the start of the pandemic, the Billings Food Bank has been serving more people than ever with the help of two programs that connect unsold produce straight from the farm to the food bank.
Shandy said a program started by college students called Farm Link buys produce from producers and pays to transport it to the food bank, which then distributes the food. Another program ran by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, called Farm to Trunk, does similar work.
The Billings Food Bank has used both programs to distribute food boxes at drive-up events in Billings and surrounding communities for the past few months. Shandy said people did not have to show any paperwork to get food at the events that sometimes have more than 500 people receive food.
“We didn’t even ask questions. If they got in line and they told us they needed food, we gave it to them. We want to make it easy for people that it's their first time using the food bank. It is humbling. We know that is a difficult first step and they are not there of their own volition. So we want to make it easy for them," Shandy said.
To start receiving food from the Billings Food Bank on a regular basis, a person needs to bring in a photo ID, proof of physical address like a utility bill or rental agreement, and Social Security cards of anyone else in the household receiving food, Shandy said.
The Billings Food Bank is seeking volunteers to help out around the holiday season. Shandy said much of the food bank's volunteer pool is in the high-risk category if they were to become infected with COVID-19 and have been staying home. Some of the volunteer tasks include driving meals to people for Thanksgiving. Last year, volunteers delivered about 150 food boxes and served in-person dinner to about 300 people on Thanksgiving.
This year, food bank staff are asking people to pick up their reserved Thanksgiving meals in person to reduce the burden on the small pool of volunteers. People in need of a Thanksgiving meal can contact the food bank to receive a voucher for a meal they can pick up at 2112 Fourth Ave. N.
A good way to donate to the Billings Food Bank is to participate in Q2's Turkey Tuesday event. From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, members of the Q2 team and other volunteers will be accepting donations to the Billings Food Bank and Toys For Tots in the studio parking lot at 3203 Third Ave. N.
Donations can also be made to the food bank during their normal business hours. To allow fewer people in the building, staff ask that you call ahead to 406-259-2856 so they can meet you outside to pick up the donation.
To inquire about volunteer opportunities, contact the same number and ask for either Sheryl Shandy or Felicia Lehman, the charity manager for the food bank.