Family Service feeds thousands each week in rural Montana as food awareness program expands

ROUNDUP – Once a month, an unmarked warehouse becomes Roundup’s most popular location.

“It’s a lifesaver,” said Inda Witzel. “I don’t think there’s anything else like it around.”

Hundreds of cars line up to receive free food boxes from the Family Service of Billings as part of the nonprofit rural outreach program that began out of necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We started getting calls from small food banks and communities saying, ‘We need food. Can you help us?’ said Stacy Brown, executive director of family services.

The answer was a resounding yes. Family Service now hosts food distribution events in 19 communities surrounding Billings.

“When we started, we were right on the side of the road. It was people grabbing and running,” Brown said. “We realized we had to organize it and it’s not a one-off program.”

CASEY CONLON / MTN News

Hundreds of boxes of food wait inside a warehouse at Roundup to be delivered to families in need at a Family Service giveaway event.

Roundup’s delivery day is perhaps its most impressive, thanks to a shipping warehouse that’s the perfect place to store nine tons of food.

“I would say just under 18,000 pounds,” lead rider Preston Kavlie said. “We normally make 15,000 to 20,000 pounds at Roundup.”

The day started around noon. Three Family Service trucks drove and all contents were unloaded into the warehouse. Once everything is in the right place, the perishables are divided into bags, then come the boxes – hundreds and hundreds of boxes, filled to the brim with everything a household in need needs.

Two hours later, the warehouse was buzzing with dozens of volunteers moving in harmony, each aware of their place in the puzzle.

Family Service Volunteers Inside

CASEY CONLON / MTN News

Volunteers fill boxes with 18,000 pounds of food to give away free to community members at a Family Service giveaway event at Roundup.

“We kind of have a system here,” said a man at the start of the box-making line. “The same people come in every month and help us. We just jump into our spots and make it happen.”

A little before 3 p.m., the first crates roll down the rollers and the first cars in line, which have been there for almost three hours, receive their reward.

“Once everything is up and running, it’s smooth,” said Kitrin Crane.

Crane was the #2 car. It’s been tough for her and her husband, and this program is crucial.

“The economy, the health issues, out of a job,” Crane said of her struggles. “It makes a big difference. It’s a huge help.”

Family Service Roundup car line

CASEY CONLON / MTN News

A volunteer takes survey information for every car that shows up to pick up a free box of food at a Family Service giveaway event at Roundup.

Then there were people like Witzel who came for someone else.

“I have a tenant who is struggling violently, and I’m trying to help him with that,” she said.

The line continued for over an hour. Every car has been serviced. That’s what Family Service is all about.

“We never run out of food,” Brown said. “No matter what we bring, there will always be enough for everyone.”

Family service is always in need. The third annual Double Down for Kids Q2 food drive to benefit the food bank will take place on Wednesday, June 15 from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. People can drop off non-perishable food or donations at any of the five MasterLube locations in Yellowstone County, as well as the Q2 Parking Lot. The goal is to raise $40,000 and collect 10,000 pounds of food.

Family service volunteer

CASEY CONLON / MTN News

Volunteers help load boxes of free food into cars at a Roundup family service distribution event.

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