HAMILTON - Even in this season of plenty, some Ravalli County residents can't afford all the food they need. Pressure on local food banks continues to increase, but a Friday delivery should provide some relief.
A Mobile Food Pantry semi will pull into the Ravalli County Fairgrounds on Friday morning to distribute between 30,000 and 40,000 pounds of food to those in need. The delivery is an acknowledgment of that need, which exceeded the Pantry's supplies the last time it was in Hamilton in November.
"The mobile pantry is usually scheduled for three or four hours, but we ran out of food in an hour and a half," said Kathryn McCleerey, Montana Food Bank Network spokeswoman. "We knew the need was great."
More than 20,000 pounds of food was provided to almost 1,000 individuals in November. More may show up on Friday if the number of people enrolled for food assistance is any indication.
As of April, almost 14 percent of county residents, representing more than 2,500 households, were signed up for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, exceeding the state average of almost 13 percent. The number of county residents using the program has almost doubled over the past five years.
McCleerey said the Food Bank Network looks at those numbers and the amount of food distributed by local pantries to schedule its deliveries.
"We depend on local pantries; they're the boots on the ground," McCleerey said. "We'll give any food we have left over to them."
Kathy Belke, president of the Pantry Partners Food Bank in Stevensville, said she's been advertising the mobile food bank delivery but doesn't know how it will help some of her clients.
"A lot of people in need can't drive to Hamilton, so I wish they would stop in Stevensville," Belke said.
McCleerey said the mobile food bank has done some back-to-back deliveries, such as combining Shelby and Havre into one trip. But the truck can carry only so much food and coordinating more than two dozen volunteers in each town can be a challenge.
When the Food Bank Network received a recent anonymous gift of $250,000, getting back to Hamilton was a priority, she said.
"We feel like we'll be well-equipped this time," McCleerey said.
Belke said one possible benefit of the mobile food pantry is its relative lack of formality. But, she said, she worries that invites some to take advantage of the program.
"A lot of times, people are hesitant to walk in the door of a food bank and don't want to fill out the forms," Belke said. "The mobile pantry could be a little less embarrassing."
McCleerey said people fill out a five-item questionnaire, which asks the number in their household and whether they are enrolled in assistance programs. If they aren't, volunteers can help them apply.
"I don't think many are looking for a handout. For the most part, people would rather not be asking for help," McCleerey said. "Most people feel they have to apologize when they come to us, and that's sad."
The state Mobile Food Pantry program relies entirely on charitable donations and volunteer work by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.
The Mobile Food Pantry will be at the Ravalli County Fairgrounds, 100 Old Corvallis Road, on Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at 363-3300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.