Billings Food Bank/Fortin Culinary Center -2021
Formed in 1982, The Billings Food Bank was originally designed to serve agencies which had food programs, and primarily in Yellowstone County. In the beginning it was a monthly ‘happening’ without a home. It has now evolved into a truly independent food bank responding to requests from anywhere throughout Montana, the United States, and in many cases beyond. When a crisis arises and the capability is there, assistance is given.
The Billings Food Bank has grown from generating 20,000 lbs. of food in 1982 to 25 Million lbs. of food in fiscal year 2020-2021 (the year of Covid). This journey has been ‘a long and winding road’ in some cases. There have been many changes along the way. After briefly utilizing two locations (immediately outgrown), the decision was made to build a facility with the ability to expand and/or develop programs dealing with hunger and its related causes and solutions.
The Montana Harvest Kitchen was created in the previous site. It was Montana’s 1st Commercial Kitchen and Food Processing Center (the 7th such idea in the country at that time and only one in a food bank). There were many ideas for expanding the concept of a shared use kitchen for hourly rent by food entrepreneurs at a minimal fee (thus avoiding the initial investments in equipment), and so the planning began for the new home.
On November 2, 2009, the doors were officially opened to the new and exciting: Billings Food Bank/Fortin Culinary Center, followed quickly by the Fortin Café & Gift Shop. Food entrepreneurs still rent by the hour, many other programs have been developed: There is now a 12 week Culinary Job Skills Program. This course prepares students for work in culinary fields – one of the fastest growing in the nation (pre-covid). The course enjoys a 99% percent placement of students in jobs.
There are 2 kitchens: the large commercial kitchen and a smaller home-style kitchen. In the smaller one classes are taught to families and children. There is also a dining/reception area seating approximately 300-350 folks around round tables for various occasions. The Fortin Café & Gift Shop was added in response to a neighborhood demand. It now also serves as a training ground for students.
Billings Food Bank has been listed with the Top 100 Food Banks in the country (only one in Montana) and has a 4 Star Rating with Charity Navigator for transparency and fiscal responsibility. The administration of the Billings Food Bank is less than 2 Per Cent.