Imagine, if you will, that you live in such a remote part of the United States that your town consists of a post office, a repair garage, and a gas station/convenience store. Imagine, if you dare, that in addition to having very few local resources and no grocery store within your community that you are also facing hunger. Where within your town will you go for help?
For people living in rural, remote, or low-population areas, securing food may be a daunting logistical challenge. There may be no nonprofit or business in the area hosting and supporting a food pantry, which is what the Montana Food Bank Network found to be true in over 20 very rural counties across the state and throughout its service area.
To help reach individuals in such predicaments, the Montana Food Bank Network based in Missoula started an innovative food program called Mail-A-Meal. Rural-based individuals and households may request a food box be mailed to their address. The fifty-pound box contains non-perishable items such as skillet dinners, tuna, macaroni and cheese, rice, beans, canned vegetables, canned fruit, pasta and pasta sauce, peanut butter and jelly, cereal, soup and stew. The box may be requested once a month through the food bank. This program has helped bring food and groceries to food insecure individuals, families, and seniors in 10 remote counties where no emergency food services were previously offered.
Brent Weisgram, Montana Food Bank Network’s Chief Operations Officer, spoke of this innovative food program during Feeding America’s Food and Operations Conference held in August of this year, and the audience was captivated.
As the food bank began operating this program, they discovered that shipping the Mail-A-Meal boxes to community senior centers was a cost-effective method to reach many individuals and households. Through national less-than-truckload carriers, the average cost of shipping a box to a drop site is about $2.00 when shipped in pallet quantities. Typically, Brent and his team fulfill a request the same day as received and designated drop sites have the boxes within 48 hours. For extreme situations involving individuals who are homebound or do not have access to a ride or their own transportation, the food bank will discreetly ship a box directly to their residence using local parcel carriers such as UPS.
Brent shared: “We are very excited that this program has helped us break through those difficult boundaries to bring much needed support to those hungry families and seniors in our most remote locations across the state. Hunger has no boundaries and we will continue to look for innovative ways to bring food to those in need regardless of where they are located.”
*Diane Letson is the director of product sourcing, new partnerships at Feeding America.Tags: Innovative Solutions to Hunger , Food Bank Network , Montana, Missouri , Montana Food Bank Network