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The drive-through line outside the Gallatin Valley Food Bank Friday stretched more than a block.

Two volunteers wearing neon orange vests directed cars to get behind the last car. In the food bank’s parking lot, volunteers wearing gloves packed fruits, vegetables, eggs, milk, bread and more into boxes — how much went in depended on whether it was for a single person or a family.

Then, volunteers put the groceries into the person’s car and sent them on their way.

“Thanks for coming, y’all,” one volunteer said to a family before they drove away.

This week, the food bank saw a significant increase each day in traffic. On Monday, 64 people visited the food bank, which is about average. On Wednesday, that number almost doubled to 114 people.

As the number of people using food banks in Montana increases amid the coronavirus pandemic, the number of donations from retailers has decreased. On a call with Montana Attorney General Tim Fox, food bank officials said that’s because grocery stores that typically supply a majority of their donations aren’t able to keep up with demand in their stores.

The food banks continue to hand out food, but they’re anticipating the number of people they see will increase. Rather than donating food or volunteering, they’re asking for money to buy their own food from suppliers to keep their shelves stocked.

Fox said to call local pantries to see what they need and what their guidelines are for what they can take, as they may have changed because of fear of spreading the coronavirus.

“I think it’s important to understand that we’re all in this together,” he said.

Gayle Carlson, CEO of Montana Food Bank Network, said people who typically access the food bank are worried about how long their local pantries are going to remain open, so they’re getting in as soon as possible. She said food banks are also starting to see people whose incomes were cut off because of bar and restaurant closures.

“They’re starting to worry about being able to provide for their family, so we’re beginning to see the influx of those as well,” Carlson said.

Bruce Day, director for Helena Food Share, said the food bank in Helena has also seen an increase in traffic. This week, he said, the food bank handed out 600 emergency food boxes, which is roughly 100 more than it normally does.

Day said food insecurity heightens during crisis, and that the Helena food bank has already started to see new people.

“We only anticipate that that’s going to increase as we continue to all feel the economic impact of the crisis,” Day said.

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Freddy Monares can be reached at or at 406-582-2630.