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Family Service feeding thousands weekly in rural Montana as food outreach program grows

Family Service Roundup
Posted at 3:37 PM, Jun 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-11 17:37:56-04

ROUNDUP — Once a month, an unmarked warehouse becomes the most popular spot in Roundup.

"This is a lifeline," said Inda Witzel. "I don't think there's anything else like this around."

Hundreds of cars line up to receive free food boxes from Family Service of Billings as part of the nonprofit's rural outreach program that started out of necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We started receiving calls from small food banks and communities saying, 'We need food. Can you help us?" said Family Service executive director Stacy Brown.

The answer has been a resounding yes. Family Service now does food distribution events in 19 communities surrounding Billings.

"When we started, we were just alongside the road. It was people grabbing and running," Brown said. "We realized we needed to organize it, and that this isn’t a one-time program."

Family Service Roundup boxes inside
Hundreds of boxes of food wait inside a warehouse in Roundup to be given to families in need at a Family Service distribution event.

The Roundup delivery day is maybe the most impressive, thanks to a shipping warehouse that is the perfect place to stage nine tons of food.

"I’d say just shy of 18,000 pounds," said lead driver Preston Kavlie. "We do 15,000-20,000 pounds to Roundup normally."

The day started around noon. Three Family Service trucks rolled up and all the contents were unloaded into the warehouse. Once everything is in the right place, perishable items are portioned out into bags, and then come the boxes - hundreds and hundreds of boxes, filled to the brim with everything a household-in-need needs.

Two hours in, the warehouse was humming with dozens of volunteers moving in harmony, each aware of their place in the puzzle.

Family Service volunteers inside
Volunteers fill boxes with 18,000 pounds of food to give to community members for free at a Family Service distribution event in Roundup.

"We’ve kind of got a system back here," said one man at the beginning of the line making boxes. "The same people come every month and help out. We just jump into our spots and make it happen."

Just before 3 p.m., the first boxes made their way down the rollers and the first cars in line, which had been there for nearly three hours, got their reward.

"Once everything gets rolling, it’s seamless," said Kitrin Crane.

Crane was car No. 2. It’s been a tough go for her and her husband, and this program is crucial.

"The economy, health issues, out of a job," Crane said of her struggles. "It makes a big difference. It’s a huge help."

Family Service Roundup car line
A volunteer takes survey information for each car that shows up to pick up a free box of food from a Family Service distribution event in Roundup.

Then there were people like Witzel who came for someone else.

"I have a renter who is struggling viciously, and I try to help him out with this," she said.

The line continued for over an hour. Every car was served. That’s Family Service’s whole goal.

"We never run out of food ever," Brown said. "No matter what we bring, there will always be enough for everybody."

Family Service is always in need. Q2's third annual Double Down for Kids food drive benefiting the food bank is Wednesday, June 15 From 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. People can drop off non-perishable food items or donations at any of the five Yellowstone County MasterLube locations, as well as in the Q2 parking lot. The goal is to raise $40,000 and collect 10,000 pounds of food.

Family Service volunteer
Volunteers help load free food boxes into cars at a Family Service distribution event in Roundup.