Hunger 

Food bank hurting

Montana Food Bank Network Director Peggy Grimes watched anxiously this week as staffers inside the nonprofit's Missoula warehouse loaded canned food, cereal, and pasta into trucks.

"We probably would have been able to make it through this a whole lot easier had the floods not hit us," Grimes said. "We are in an emergency situation."

The nonprofit distributed 8.4 million pounds of food last year to 196 partner agencies, including Missoula's Watson Children's Shelter, the Poverello Center, the Salvation Army, and rural food banks across the state. Even before the floods hit, the network was navigating a 107 percent increase in households seeking emergency food assistance since 2009.

The problem is there's been no increase in funding this year to cover the spike in demand. In fact, the network is grappling with the possibility of a funding loss as Congress deliberates U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plan. The Republican-crafted legislation proposes cutting federal emergency food programs. If that happens, Grimes says, the network, and individuals and families served by emergency food providers across Montana, will be forced into an even more precarious balancing act.

Rural food banks are already trying to do more with less. For example, Alberton Food Pantry director Laura Acker says demand there is up by 8 percent this year over last. With food supplies waning, she's trimming the amount of food she distributes to individual clients. "I guess the part that stresses me out the most is that we won't be able to provide the protein," she says—the amount of meat that the food bank receives every six weeks has "been cut back by hundreds of pounds."

Grimes, meanwhile, is left watching food loaded onto trucks as she worries about being able to restock shelves. She says she hopes Congress pays attention to how its actions affect people on the ground. "What we're saying is, 'Please don't make these cuts. If that does happen, Montana is in a very serious condition.'"

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