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Billings Food Bank calling for volunteers to help cook thousands of donated HelloFresh meals

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Posted at 5:59 PM, Mar 24, 2021

BILLINGS — Billings Food Bank staff are looking for volunteers with a background in food service to help cook and package 20,000 HelloFresh meals by Saturday before their ingredients spoil, said Sheryle Shandy, executive director at the food bank on Wednesday.

“We have to cook as many as we can. Whatever we can’t get done through Saturday, then we need to pull the protein items out of them and freeze them,” Shandy said.

Chefs, food service workers, home cooks or anyone who wants to help are invited to the Billings Food Bank at 2112 Fourth Ave. N. between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday this week to lend a hand. To schedule a time to volunteer, call the food bank at 406-259-2856. If you get the answering machine, leave a message and staff will call you back.

“We do have some other chefs and some cooks that are coming that we know of, but we’re making an appeal for anyone who would like to come out and help us. Especially those who have experience in the food service industry to give us a hand and see how many we can get done," Shandy said.

Two semi-trailer loads of HelloFresh paper bags packed with raw ingredients were donated by the meal delivery company this week. Normally, people purchase the service and have a box shipped to their door to cook at home.

Some of HelloFresh's delivery trucks got stuck in Wyoming during a massive snow storm last week and couldn't meet their shipping deadline. So the company donated the meals to the food bank.

"They only have three days on transportation and they have to guarantee that they have a week on them for the families to use them in a week. By the time they got stuck in the blizzard, that was not possible in all cases," Shandy said.

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Billings Food Bank Executive Chef David Maplethorpe (in white) runs the heat sealing machine with food bank staff and volunteers Wednesday.

On a normal day at the food bank, the kitchen only operates with a handful of volunteers. Billings Food Bank Executive Chef David Maplethorpe said they'll use all the help they can get.

“There’s like 17 different meals, and each one has to be prepared separately. That’s why we're looking for some help with people who have experience cooking. We have enough space in the kitchen where we could probably have two or three teams cooking at a time and subsequently make it go much, much quicker," Maplethorpe said.

After the meals are cooked, they're scooped into containers and ran through the food bank's new heat sealing machine. Then the containers are put into the freezer awaiting distribution.

Maplethorpe said the heat sealing machine has a high output.

“Yesterday afternoon, we sealed about 102 meals in about 10 minutes. It's very quick. You kind of get behind and lose track, but once you keep your mind going, it’s very easy to do," Maplethorpe said.

Shandy said the donation was a "bonanza" for the food bank. The meals will ensure other food already purchased can stay on the shelves longer and help more people enrolled in the food bank's programs.

"That's one reason we're so excited about doing the meals because we provide meals for a lot of programs and individuals. This allows us to keep some time on it and use the things that are first in, and last out," Shandy said.

RELATED: Billings Food Bank volunteers serve hundreds in need with Farm to Trunk event Tuesday