Hungry in Bozeman and Across Montana

by Deb Redburn

I first became interested in food insecurity when I worked as the scholarship coordinator for the College of Education, Health and Human Development at Montana State University. Often, students would come into my office looking for financial assistance, even if it was just for $500 to pay their last tuition installment, which would help free up funds to pay for food or child care for the rest of the semester.

A few years ago, professors and students in the nutrition department became interested in food insecurity when they heard about students who were hungry and skipping meals because they didn’t have enough money. They surveyed students and found, surprisingly, there were more students experiencing food insecurity than they realized. The most recent study showed that almost 39% of MSU students experienced food insecurity at some point. What began as a student-led project blossomed into a permanent pantry now called Bounty of the Bridgers (BoB).

What is food Insecurity? According to a report by Montana Food Bank Network, it’s defined as “the inability to access food in a consistent manner, resulting in reduced quality or variety of diet.” Of course, there are food banks in many communities and federal assistance programs, but an estimated 109,000 (pre-pandemic) Montanans still live in food insecure homes. Covid-19 has changed that number to an estimated 141,000 Montanans, including 50,000 children, who are food insecure.

Even before the pandemic, low wages, job loss, and insufficient fixed incomes left families unable to keep food on the table. Rising housing costs, lack of affordable childcare, and medical care contributed to hunger. The pandemic blew this all out of the water! Many more families, single people, and seniors now faced food insecurity. Many people were even afraid to go to the grocery store for fear of catching and dying from Covid.

Many people in affluent Bozeman often don’t think that we have a problem with food insecurity. But it’s here in the Gallatin Valley.  One in seven people here (13%) live below the federal poverty level. According to the Gallatin Valley Food Bank, 2,033,190 pounds of food was distributed to area families last year as demand skyrocketed from the year before. Thankfully, Bozeman area residents responded generously to help fill the need for food.

During July, the BUMC Social Justice Action Team will take on food insecurity as its focus. A week of activities is planned for July 19-23. Stay tuned to learn more about this topic and find out how Gallatin Valley organizations are addressing this problem.

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