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Need for food assistance spikes in Southwest Montana


The number of elementary school students needing weekend food assistance in Southwest Montana has shot up.

The longstanding KidsPack program provides students who would otherwise go hungry with healthy meals and snacks for the weekend. During the first semester of the school year, it distributed nearly 8,000 bags of food. That’s an average of 725 children each week in 38 schools throughout Madison, Jefferson, and Gallatin Counties - and a whopping 66 percent increase over the previous school year.

HRDC’s Food and Nutrition Director Jill Holder attributes most of that increase to the skyrocketing cost of living.

“In our area, it's very common for people to be cost-burdened,” Holder said. “Their housing is well over 30 percent of their income. In many cases, it's 50, 60, or even 70 percent. And that just doesn't leave any room for families to pay for all the other things they need to pay for.”

The community at large is also experiencing food insecurity in greater numbers. Together with the rising cost of living, residents have been hard hit by the decrease in pandemic-era federal programs like unemployment, SNAP benefits, and tax credits for families with children.

The Gallatin Valley Food Bank saw its highest numbers ever last month: more than 1600 food boxes.

“So we just keep breaking records,” Holder said. “And that is an indicator. It's not that people are just using the food bank more. It's that they need it.”

More information about HRDC’s KidsPack program can be found at

Sarah Kanter Brown is the producer of YPR’s Field Days. A graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism, Brown has worked at newspapers and magazines nationwide.