BILLINGS — Green beans, cranberry sauce, a butterball turkey—loading up your cart with all of the Thanksgiving dinner staples can rack up the bill pretty quickly.
For a family of four, the estimate for Thanksgiving dinner in 2023 is about $30 for turkey and $5 of sides per person.
With the high costs of housing and inflation hitting groceries, a traditional Thanksgiving dinner can be out of reach for a lot of people across the Yellowstone valley.
Currently, Family Service assists 1 in 11 Billings residents with some kind of service, whether it is food, housing/utilities, clothes or more. The organization, which started in Billings in 1906, identifies a much higher rate of residents, 1 in 6, as struggling with poverty.
One of its essential services, a food pantry, is open five days a week and allows a person in need to shop the pantry one time each week.
The pantry opens at 10 a.m., but people get there much earlier to get access early.
"I came here at 5:30 this morning," says Mural, a 77-year-old Lockwood resident who comes to the pantry each week. "Really it's a godsend for a lot of people."
About 140 people shop the pantry each day it is open, a number Felicia Burg has seen increase in her six months as the Family Service development director. When she started, it was closer to 100 shoppers per day.
“It's not just the people that you see downtown on the corners holding signs—that's not who we serve," Burg said. "These are retired nurses and teachers that are coming that are living on Social Security and just can't make those ends meet. These are people that are working full-time jobs who just don't have enough money to supply that stuff for their families."
"Really, it's not our job to judge who's coming to us or what put them in this situation. If they come and they're hungry, we will help feed you. That's what we want to do.”
A lot of the people lining up early are older folks on fixed incomes, including Sharon Wilson and Bonnie Willis.
"I usually come about every two weeks and replenish my pantry and refrigerator with certain things I'm not able to purchase with my Social Security check every month," Wilson said.
As the holiday season approaches, the stress of a special and expensive meal weighs heavily on many people.
"I think most of the people in my situation, we're low income, we hit bad times, and without this, it wouldn't be a holiday," Willis said.
This Thanksgiving, Family Service will put together pre-packed turkey boxes for clients, but their plans to fill 1,000 boxes might need to change.
“The need is huge and it's growing so much right now in our community," Burg said. "We had scheduled to do about 1,000 holiday food boxes for Thanksgiving. We are almost signed up to that at this point. So we're looking at maybe doing 1,500 or going above that. We will hand out as many turkeys that are donated to us out to the community. So it's really a community effort.”
As Mural fills his cart with meat, veggies and milk for the week, he reminds people that community means being able to help each other when times get tough.
"Don't be embarrassed to come down here. It's life—do it the best you can and make the best you can of it," Mural said.
This holiday season, KTVQ is partnering with Family Service and Toys for Tots for our annual Turkey Tuesday food and toy drive. On Tuesday, Nov. 14, Q2 will be collecting monetary, food and toy donations at our station at 3203 3rd St. N, and at MasterLube locations in the Heights, on 24th and King, and in Laurel.