Montana Food Bank Network receives 35,000 pounds of pork from Smithfield Foods

Gayle Carlson with MFBN accepts a “ceremonial” donation of processed pork from Jonathan Toms with Smithfield Foods. (Smithfield Foods Inc.)

One in eight Montanans experience hunger, and on Wednesday the Montana Food Bank Network was grateful to receive about 35,000 pounds of protein from a Virginia pork processing company.

“We try to do our best to make sure that we have a good assortment of healthy, nutritious foods that can go out to the communities, and protein is one of those very expensive items,” Gayle Carlson, chief executive officer of the Montana Food Bank Network, said. “Things like what we had delivered today would not ordinarily be within our budget for purchasing and it’s not something we typically get donated.”

Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork processor, leads the Helping Hungry Homes initiative and has served more than 40 states and their state food bank networks for the past decade.

In collaboration with Albertsons, the donation will provide about 141,000 servings of protein for Montanans.

“Any chance they have to have a company step in like Smithfield and donate that product rather than the food bank having to purchase it, this really allows them to open up that funding to other things and increase their overall distribution for the year,” Jonathan Toms, associate manager of charitable initiatives for Smithfield Foods said.

Since 2008, the company has donated more than 100 million servings of protein to food banks across the country. For the first time, Smithfield was able to add the Montana Food Bank Network to the list.

“We’ve visited communities all across the country, and as we were looking at where we’ve been and where we wanted to go, we realized that the state of Montana was a place we’ve never been before,” Toms said. “Any food bank anywhere can always use that helping hand, and that’s where we’re happy to step in, especially with [protein] being the most expensive.”

Not only is protein one of the most expensive items for food bank networks to purchase, Carlson said, it’s a major part of a well-balanced meal.

“This time of year when our donations are down in foods and funds, it’s a pretty valuable opportunity for us,” said Carlson.

The protein will be distributed to the 145 network partners across the state. Carlson said that protein is one of the most valued staple items that food banks and pantries can receive.

“Any time we can get meat that isn’t something they have to purchase on their own or that we have to purchase is just really embraced. They love it,” Carlson said. “So when they see the shopping list, they’ll take the full quantity that they can fit into their freezers – as much as they can handle each month.”

The network, which doesn’t receive state or federal dollars, must budget for certain items like protein. During the holidays, the network will receive donated turkeys and hams, while during the summer, the organization must purchase these items.

Other programs, like Montana Hunters Against Hunger, donate about 40,000 to 45,000 pounds of processed game each year to food banks across Montana, and other companies like Tyson have donated a truckload of processed chickens to the network.

“Smithfield has really appreciated the value of the emergency food services in all of the states and decided to take this on and be able to provide these protein items to every single state over the course of a few years,” Carlson said. “This is something that is a big deal for them, and it’s a very big deal for us as well.”