Food pantry’s numbers show increases

M.P. Regan
Wednesday, September 16, 2020
Food might

Volunteers unload a shipment on Monday at the Beaverhead Community Food Pantry in Dillon to help meet the growing local need. M.P. Regan photo

These are not mere coincidences.

“Our numbers are way up,” said Neal Straus of the more than 35 percent spike in the number of families seeking assistance since the start of the year from the Beaverhead Community Food Pantry for which he serves as vice president of the board.

“That rise happened along with the pandemic,” added Straus of the impact of the coronavirus crisis since the start of the year on food security for many area families.

The Dillon-based Community Food Pantry went from serving about an average of 55-60 families per week to around 80 as the pandemic’s economic impact began to be acutely felt in Beaverhead County, according to Straus, who’s been crunching numbers for his entire career as an accountant and businessman.

“We know that people in this community are proudly selfsufficient, but every once in a while we all need a hand, and that is what we are here for,” said Straus of the all-volunteer organization that operates without any paid staffers.

But that rise in demand at the Beaverhead Community Food Pantry has been met by an increase in donations to it, according to Straus.

“When the COVID outbreak started, we began to get a lot more financial donations,” said Straus of monies that help the food pantry purchase more items to distribute to its clients.

“So we have been giving out more food,” added Straus, the former treasurer for the City of Dillon.

“People have really stepped up,” said Beaverhead Community Food Pantry volunteer Mike Feldt, of the dramatic increase in donations that the local food pantry has received in response to the health and economic crisis brought on by the pandemic.

“I really want to thank all of our donors and supporters for their continuing support and generosity. It’s amazing,” said Straus of a largesse has also gotten larger through more donations of fish and wild game harvested by sportsmen or meat given to the food pantry by area ranchers, much of it stored in a large, new walk-in cooler installed this year at the back of the food pantry that Feldt volunteers dozens of hours a month to help maintain.

“He’s always in here helping out in some way,” said Straus.

The group dedicated to battling hunger in the area has also gained more items from other food groups essential to a healthy diet.

“We have more fruit and vegetables to give away—quite a few,” said Straus of the growing supply of food grown in the area and moving through the food pantry on its way to area families.

“We are able to provide more food than we used to and a healthier variety of food.”

That supply increased by the better part of a ton on Monday with the delivery of dozens of boxes laden with food from the USDA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP).

“It’s been kind of a boon to us,” said Straus of the farm to families program that Beaverhead Community Food Pantry volunteer Lance Hicks goes to Butte to pick up around 1,500 pounds of food from every other week.

“It’s different stuff every week,” said Straus of a menu of goods that in recent weeks has included, among many other things, tomatoes, oranges, cereal, pastas, lettuce, blueberries, milk, soy milk, Brussels sprouts, apples and potatoes.

“Some weeks we get cheese, butter, chicken, all sorts of stuff,” said Straus.

With supplies and demands increasing, the food pantry has streamlined its approach to distributing food to its clients.

Gone is the long line that used to form every Wednesday outside the Beaverhead Community Food Pantry on East Helena Street in Dillon, where clients now look over a list of available items posted outside the food pantry’s front door and choose which ones they’d like as part of their weekly food boxes.

Clients then come inside to pick up their food boxes or get them carried out to their waiting vehicles parked outside the food pantry.

“Those who need help loading will get help from us. And some clients help other clients carry their food out,” said Straus.

“We’ve also expanded our service hours,” said Straus of another congestion-reducing innovation.

“We used to distribute food from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Wednesdays. We now do it now from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Wednesdays.”

To gain assistance from the food pantry, a person just needs to show proof of being a resident of Beaverhead County or Madison County, and answer about a half-dozen questions on an application that can be picked up at the food pantry or mailed to him or her by request.

“Anyone who is in need of food should just come sign in. We don’t judge people or ask how much money they make,” said Straus of the food pantry, which is located at 131 E. Helena St. in Dillon.

“We are just there to help people.”

For more information about the Beaverhead Community Food Pantry, email beaverheadcommunityfoodpantry@hotmail. com or call 406-660-4500 or go to its Facebook page.