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HRDC’s Gallatin Valley Food Bank has been operating for 38 years and there are a few aspects of our service that we hold near and dear to our hearts. The first is our customers and providing the groceries and the support they need to persist and someday even thrive. The second is our volunteers and the third is receiving food donations. All aspects have been deeply affected by COVID-19.

Long have we known that volunteer support is the power that keeps our emergency food system operational. In our past fiscal year, our volunteers rescued food, assisted customers, sorted food donations, packed senior groceries and kids packs, delivered food, and repackaged bulk food to the tune of over 20,000 hours of service; 384 hours a week! Without them we simply cannot operate the same model.

While a role of our Gallatin Valley Food Bank is to provide emergency food service for individuals experiencing a food shortage (over 3,600 in April 2020), we are also part of the response team for a community emergency. Our food bank, just like grocery stores and medical workers, is essential. Although our role is to respond to food shortage, our responsibility is to maintain food safety and human safety. It is because of this essential nature that we make decisions to protect our service.

The 206,000 pounds of food from Can the Griz was the reserve we pulled in the beginning of this crisis. During Can the Griz 2019 we strategically placed many of our food drives at grocery stores ensuring off the shelf items were donated. The week of March 16{span style=”font-size: 10px;”},{/span} we quickly sorted over 50,000 pounds of food to pack into pre-packed bags so we could begin distributing food using a drive-through model.

Without this reserve we would have been scrambling to make purchases that would have not been available in the quantities we needed, at a time when everyone was stocking up on groceries. Our food bank store is currently a warehouse and there is room for only items that can be quickly packed to make a food box. Food safety mandates we ask a few questions regarding the handling of the food with a walk-in donation. For instance, we need to know how a gallon of milk was stored before it was donated. It is our responsibility, one that takes time, personnel, tact, compassion and human contact.

Right now, during COVID-19, we are short on time and personnel because we are trying to increase social distance and limit human contact.

The responsibility for food safety is reflected in our own community. We are grateful that during our fall food drives you gave nutritionally valuable foods straight from the local grocery stores (they require less handling and little waste). This helps local businesses and our customers. We miss our volunteers and look forward to the day they can return safely to the food bank so we may begin putting our store back together and sort the donations that we hope will come on the day we begin asking for them again.

What can be done in the meantime: start your garden, support your local businesses (especially our farmers) and keep checking in. Thank you to our donors who have been so generous through this emergency and made it possible for us to purchase the food we need. Until everyone is employed with a livable wage, there are no more debilitating conditions that keep people from working, and housing costs don’t outpace wages, we will need a food bank that depends on our community.

Our Gallatin Valley Food Bank is 97% funded by our community. We appreciate you and please understand that we look forward to your food donations when the time comes and we can safely accept them.

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Jill Holder is the food and nutrition department director for the Gallatin Valley Food Bank.