Helping those in need, one box at a time

Volunteers from a Catholic Heart work camp put together food boxes on Wednesday at the Billings Food Bank. The volunteers, who are from various places around the country, were in Billings helping out at various agencies.

DAVID GRUBBS/Gazette Staff

This spring's flooding displaced hundreds of people and increased demands on the Billings Food Bank.

As rivers bulged with rainwater and back-filled by a historical snowpack, the nonprofit agency was ready and willing to step in and assist those affected by floodwater.

"We put a lot of food out there and are still working with Roundup and Minot," said Sheryle Shandy, executive director of the Billings Food Bank.

Shandy said the food bank always has reserves — around 2 million food items ready to be taken to locations in the 11 counties they serve.

The nonprofit stretched its coverage by assisting the heavily flooded city of Minot, N.D., after representatives from the Boise-Cascade LLC contacted the food bank.

"We actually have an employee, an outside salesman, that lives in the area," said Steve Davis, administrative and credit manager with Boise-Cascade. "We run a truck with building products that we sell over in lumber yards in that area several times a week."

The company teamed up with the food bank, adding food to their trucks filled with lumber supplies.

"We had a little food drive here at our office and some individuals purchased water, food and other supplies," Davis said. "We put it on pallets and sent it over."

The Billings Food Bank was deep in the flood effort by the time Minot's needs surfaced. Once floodwaters stranded residents in Roundup and left hundreds of Crow Agency residents homeless, the donations started rushing in.

Shandy said Anheuser-Busch, Pepsi and Albertson's stepped up, offering pallets of water each week.

"The donations kept up," Shandy said. "That's one of the things we figured out real early on. Everyone wants to do something, but are hamstrung and not knowing what to do. By just having a gathering place so people can bring what they can contribute really helps."

The food bank arranged the donation of mattresses and box springs from Mattress King for flood victims. Shandy said the process is selective, only for those who don't have insurance and have not received help from another source.

As the weeks go on, the need has gone down for flood victims. In Roundup, Shandy said teams have started tearing mold from flooded homes and businesses, focusing on rebuilding.

The need that hasn't gone down is in Billings — the everyday user of the Billings Food Bank.

The food bank's senior program has seen an increase in participants. With children out of school, families have more mouths to feed over the summer months.

The food bank also is participating in a pilot program for a new voucher system, working with other service nonprofits.

"It's where they would go to an agency that offers many services and they do the case work and then give a voucher for us, sending the people our way," Shandy said. "It eliminates people having to go tell their story. A lot of times, there is a reluctance to do that."

Volunteers are spending most of their summer putting together food boxes for families and members of the senior program.

Family food boxes range in amount for couples, families of three to six and families of more than seven.

"We can put these boxes together in advance and be much better prepared," Shandy said.

The flooding also affected food banks involved in the Montana Food Bank Network. To help replenish, the organization's executive officer requested that Gov. Brian Schweitzer use disaster funds to help build up their resources.