BILLINGS — The Montana Rescue Mission served a simple dish, chili, at Tuesday's lunch service. Another basic meal, red beans and rice and bean soup, will come later.
Becoming creative with the ingredients available is something chef Jess McCormick has become accustomed to in her year of working breakfast and lunch services at the downtown Billings rescue mission.
“Unfortunately, I’ve seen the decrease in our donations and the increase in the clients," McCormick said. “[The kitchen manager] Stuart has been here 13 years, and he says this is the lowest it’s ever been.”
The staff is seeing fewer food donations with more people in need of food.
Stuart Bovington, the kitchen manager, said the items the rescue mission needs are constantly changing. Sometimes they need milk, McCormick added, and now they're looking for eggs and proteins.
"Some days are very, very slender. Like it's a bowl but that cereal is with powdered milk. You know they've learned to be real grateful for what we have, but I'd love to give them eggs. I'd love to give them bacon... And show them that the community does care," McCormick said.
But food donations aren't the only thing needed.
Melissa Howie started volunteering in November twice a week during lunch service. She has seen firsthand how much help is needed.
“Some days I’m the only volunteer here,” Howie said. “Because of the sheer numbers of people coming through the lines at lunch, it’s important that we have people who are prepping and cutting and washing dishes.”
Bovington said that once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the volunteer numbers drastically dropped and are only now slowly growing back. One exception is Doug Iams, who has volunteered for 13 years. It has been a long run, but he has an easy explanation for helping out for so long.
"Because I love my neighbor," Iams said.
Howie said she believes people are sometimes intimidated to volunteer, but they shouldn't be.
“It’s really not intimidating once you get here. It fills my cup. It makes me feel useful,” she said.
Whether it is donating time or resources, the staff is just looking for help during this time.
“It’s like oh, we’re going to give, it's Christmas. But people forget that we have homeless all year long,” said McCormick.