BILLINGS — The Billings Food Bank is serving about 2.5 times its regular caseload currently, and it's doing it with a pantry that's stocked full, said Sheryle Shandy, executive director for the Billings Food Bank, on Wednesday.
“The need is increasing, but our ability to help is also increasing," Shandy said.
Wednesday was the first of a three-day run of a Farm to Trunk event at the food bank. From July 7 through 9, from the hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., people can drive through the food bank parking lot and receive a free box of food, no questions asked.
The Farm to Trunk events have been extremely popular over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Volunteers often give out 1,500 boxes of food in a three-day run. The USDA program purchased produce from farmers and gave it to food banks to distribute to people in need. The program was created because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Shandy said.
“When schools were let out and schools were not happening, restaurants weren’t open. It was a way to do two things. Number one: quickly get food to people who have maybe never had to rely on services like us before. But then it also stopped some of the waste," Shandy said.
The food bank had several opportunities over the last year to bring the program to communities surrounding Billings, Shandy said.
Shandy said the federal program ended at the end of June, but people in Billings should keep an eye out for a few more Farm to Trunk events in the month of July.
“It was a good shot in the arm for the food banks, especially the food banks that don’t normally participate in government programs. It was a good thing," Shandy said.
Even if the federal program is gone, the drive-thru aspect of the event might remain due to its efficiency, Shandy said.
“We’re looking at that to kind of keep this going because it is so efficient. We do this during the holidays and stuff where people have signed up. We’ve done that for a long time because it just makes things move so much faster," Shandy said.
The food bank's stock is doing well, partially because of federal aid money the nonprofit received from the American Rescue Plan Act, Shandy said.
“We got a lot of work done because of that. Things that we could not have done before," Shandy said.
The Billings Food Bank is not immune from the global supply chain issues that have manifested in things like computer chips and building materials. Shandy said canned vegetables, for a time, were hard to come by.
“I couldn’t buy some canned vegetables that we have on hand usually all the time until this fall until the new crops came in. Because there was such a shortage that all of the crops had kind of been spoken for, for the rest of this year," Shandy said.
Throughout May, food bank staff were able to work with their suppliers to purchase $200,000 worth of food that has an expiration date two years away with the help of the stimulus money, the group's regular budget and donations.
"We don’t have to worry about it expiring on our shelves, and we don’t have to worry about whether we’re going to have a source for the things that we use. We’ve gotten really well stocked," Shandy said.
The Billings community always comes through for the Billings Food Bank, Shandy said.
“It’s just been amazing. Our front where we receive the food, that fills up just about every day. Just from people off the street, other people that are in business deliver us what they can. The community and the businesses here have been so supportive and I’m sure that’s the same story with anybody that’s doing what we do," Shandy said.
Shandy said there's always room for more volunteers at the Billings Food Bank. To become involved call 406-259-2856 and ask for either Sheryl Shandy or Felicia Lehman, the charity manager for the food bank.