Bigfork Food Bank is well-stocked and ready to serve

by Mackenzie Reiss
March 25, 2020 1:00 AM

Customers of the Bigfork Food Bank have no need to panic since the facility has “ample food,” director Ann Tucker told the Eagle last Friday. However, the food bank will only be open one day in the month of April in an effort to minimize the risk of exposing volunteers to COVID-19, who are essential to food bank operations. Customers will still be able to pick up the same amount of food for the month, but will have to stop by between 1-6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 7. The food bank was previously open every Tuesday.

Guests won’t be allowed to shop for items inside the store either, and will instead receive pre-packaged boxes of food based on family size.

“We’re handing them to people outside and that just eliminates our exposure,” Tucker said.

Packing the items is labor intensive — the effort took eight volunteers eight hours last week — but Tucker and her team are working on ways to streamline the process, like organizing items prior to packaging. She is limiting the number of volunteers inside the building, reducing the crew from 10 or 12, down to fewer than nine.

Tucker has observed an uptick in food bank customers since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Last Tuesday evening, the food bank served 33 families up from 15 the week before. She noted that figure was abnormally low and they average about 22 families in the evening. During the day the food bank serves 36-38 families.

Her primary concern is a potential influx of customers due to the mandated bar and restaurant closures enacted to help limit the spread of COVID-19. On March 19, Flathead County Health Officer Hillary Hanson ordered all bars, restaurants, casinos, gyms and theaters to shut their doors, effective 6 a.m. on March 20 through 8 a.m. March 30. Restaurants were permitted to offer to-go and delivery options, but with profit losses looming, many eateries have already made significant cuts to staff.

“As unemployment numbers increase, I don’t know what demands that’s going to make on the food bank,” Tucker said. “A lot of restaurants are closing down and that means those people are not going to have work and those people may be coming to the food bank.”

But for now, the Bigfork Food Bank is stocked and ready to serve the community.

“We have ample food for everybody — it’s not a critical situation at all,” Tucker said.

The level of grocery rescue, or food received from local grocers, have remained constant, Tucker said. The only thing they’re lacking is toilet paper.

“We could, like all other Americans, use toilet paper,” she said. “We got 12 rolls yesterday … we now have a grand total of 42 rolls of toilet paper for 50 families.”

If locals wish to donate items besides toilet paper the food bank could use: sugar, flour, rice, pancake mix, mac and cheese, pasta sauce and ramen noodles. Additionally, financial donations are always appreciated.

For those who need assistance, they can simply show up at the next open date and present a government-issued ID for each person in their household.

“We’re just so appreciative of all the help people give us. We’re just very grateful — it just continues to amazing us how this community supports our efforts,” Tucker said.

She also wanted to extend a special thanks to the food bank volunteers, who are “quickly becoming almost first responders, to a certain extent.”

“We’re all in this together,” Tucker said. “We’re going to be fine.” ■

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Kathleen Whitney, of Ferndale, unpacks boxes of mac ‘n’ cheese at the Bigfork Food Bank on Monday morning. (Mackenzie Reiss/Bigfork Eagle)

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Arlene Wilson, of Bigfork, helps prepare packaged boxes of food for customers of the Bigfork Food Bank. The food bank transitioned to pre-packaged boxes to help curtail the spread of COVID-19. (Mackenzie Reiss/Bigfork Eagle)

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Pre-packaged boxes of food based on family size fill counters at Bigfork Food Bank on Monday morning. (Mackenzie Reiss/Bigfork Eagle)