BILLINGS — It’s no secret that many students in the Billings community struggle with food insecurity, but the need is greater this year: the number of children served in food insecurity programs through Billings Public Schools has risen 30% since November.
At Senior High School, too many students are showing up to school hungry. Between 20 and 50 teenagers visit the school’s teen pantry before and after school every day.
“Too many to count,” said Tumbleweed program manager, Quincy Petty, on Monday.
The teen pantry is just one of three programs the Billings Public School Education Foundation supports to help students facing food insecurity.
“They’re very grateful that we have this here, and they’re willing to try new things,” Petty said.
Petty knows first-hand how much these kids are in need.
“The only time I really hear any kind of thing is when I’m not here. Then I hear an awful lot about, you know, where were you, we’re starving, and the food pantry,” said Petty.
It makes it easy for her to make sure the pantry is always stocked.
“This pantry is like a monster of its own. It’s growing. It’s growing and growing,” chortled Petty.
It’s going to have to continue growing to keep up with the demand. The Education Foundation feeds at least 700 kids a week with its teen pantry, elementary pantry and BackPack Meals programs.
“When we compare the numbers of kids we were serving to this time last year, we’ve been about 30% higher in the number of kids we’ve been serving since November,” said the executive director of the Education Foundation, Kelly McCandless.
McCandless believes it's because inflation has skyrocketed.
“We are seeing irregular fluctuations in our numbers, which tells we have families asking for help and then maybe not needing it for a couple of weeks, and then maybe needing it again,” McCandless said.
Costs have also gone up for the Education Foundation.
“Our BackPack Meals a year and a half ago were costing us $4.25 for the package of four meals and two snacks and today they’re costing us at least $5.25,” said McCandless.
It’s all the more reason, they say, to donate to their 406 Jersey Day fundraiser that’s happening this Friday, right before the Super Bowl.
“You wear any jersey you want to celebrate the sport of your choice and make a donation,” McCandless said.
You can visit this site to learn more about the Education Foundation’s three food insecurity programs and to donate to 406 Jersey Day.