Montana ranchers seeking beef for food banks

Helena, Montana (AP) 3-08

The Montana Cattlemen’s Association Foundation has launched a “Beef on Every Table” drive to supply packages of hamburger to many hungry Montanans through food banks and Indian reservations across the state.

“We came up with the idea to get cattle producers to donate older cows or bulls that they were going to sell,” said the foundation’s president, Dennis McDonald of Melville. “In our small way, we’re trying to help out a bit.”

The foundation, which began the program in January, asks only that the cattle donated be healthy and clean.

The foundation is asking its members or any other ranchers to donate cattle, with a goal of 100 cattle for the program this year. So far, it has received 18 cattle that have been processed, with 20 more in the works, McDonald told Montana’s Lee Newspapers in Monday’s editions.

If 100 cattle are donated and processed, that will yield 80,000 pounds of hamburger, which is wrapped in one-pound packages for distribution at food banks and Indian reservations around the state, McDonald said.

The foundation is also seeking financial donations to help pay the $350-a-head cost of processing cattle. It’s received $5,000 worth of pledges but no money yet. McDonald said he and some other ranchers have been personally absorbing the costs so far, but they can’t afford to keep it up.

“I just got a call from a fellow that ranches south of Butte,” he said during March “He’s got some cows to donate. We don’t have any money to process them.”

Some 47,000 Montana families either skip meals or go to bed hungry, McDonald said, citing statistics from the Montana Food Bank Network. He said more than 310,000 state residents, or 30 percent of the state’s total population, including the elderly and young children, are at risk of food insecurity and hunger.

“There’s carbohydrates, vegetables, bread, noodles and macaroni at food banks, but no protein,” McDonald said. “It’s really difficult for the food banks to get a hold of protein.”

To make matters worse, the Montana Food Bank Network is in the process of having to take back certain frozen beef from food banks in the state as part of a national recall. The questionable beef came Westland/Hallmark Beef Co., from a Southern California slaughterhouse facing investigation of mistreatment of animals.