BILLINGS – An Arkansas company donated almost 38,000 pounds of chicken to the Montana Food Bank Network on Tuesday, as the organization’s chief said hunger relief agencies have been hard-pressed to keep up with demand for food heading into the holidays.
Workers for Tyson Foods, Inc. delivered the truckload of frozen chicken to the food bank’s warehouse in Missoula, which provides food to Montana residents though almost 200 organizations and agencies across the state.
Montana Food Bank Network chief executive Peggy Grimes said the need for donations has increased this year because of the struggling economy and the loss of $1 million in federal stimulus money that the organization received each of the prior two years.
“It’s not that more people don’t want to help, it’s just that belts are so tight for everyone,” said Grimes. “We’re really hoping this donation is going to get us through the Thanksgiving and Christmas season.”
In recent days, food banks in Missoula and Kalispell have sent out calls for more turkeys to provide needy families with holiday dinners, Grimes said. An organization in Helena made a public request for turkeys that already has been fulfilled by donors, she said.
Tuesday’s donation came at the request of rock musician Huey Lewis. Lewis has a residence in the Bitterroot Valley south of Missoula and is a friend of John Tyson, the chairman of the Arkansas company, said T Fuqua, brand manager for Tyson Foods.
The U.S. economy emerged from recession in June 2009, but Montana’s unemployment rate continued to climb for another two years. The unemployment rate topped out at 7.8 percent three months ago and has tapered slightly since. It remains more than double the rate seen from 2005 through 2007.
Tuesday’s shipment of chicken equates to enough protein for 120,000 individual meals, food bank spokeswoman Kathryn McCleerey said.
The Montana Food Bank Network distributed 8.4 million pounds of food in 2010 and Grimes said the organization expects to reach a similar distribution figure this year.
Grimes said the chicken from Tyson will go out to Missoula-area organizations starting this week and to other agencies across the state in time for Christmas.
Tyson Foods truck drivers Kevin Gragg and Scott Holman — part of the company’s 115,000-person workforce — drove the chicken 2,300 miles to reach Missoula. Fuqua said the donation was part of the Tyson Foods’ hunger awareness campaign, through which more than 8 million pounds of food have been donated annually over the past decade.
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