Levi Britton and Sheryle Shandy, Billings Food Bank manager, shake hands over a box of fresh beef, the final result of the Cattlemen Feed the Needy program.
By Tami Arvik Blake
Farmers and ranchers understand better than anyone where food comes from.
And they are, by trade, sensitive to the needs of a creature — including humans.
That’s where Levi Britton stepped in. The Billings man founded the nonprofit Cattlemen Feed the Needy program in 2006, through which ranches can donate cattle to be processed for hamburger that is subsequently donated to the Billings Food Bank.
Britton raises a few cows of his own north of Billings. In recent years he’s witnessed Billings’ population grow ever larger. “With growth comes more need as well,” he says. “I wasn't sure Billings could keep up with that need, and I guess that's why I was prompted to help out with programs that were already set up.”
When Britton found out that the Billings Food Bank donates up to four tons of meat to needy people per month, he thought of a very good source of meat: ranchers. So he started advertising for ranchers to donate a cull or dry cow out of a load of cows brought to the sale yard in Billings.
Thanks to Britton's work, sale yard owner Pat Goggins donates the yard fee for the Food Bank cows that are donated. Gary Dixon of G&S Transport hauls the cattle to T-Bone Feeders in Shepherd, Montana, where they’re put on feed until there’s an open date at the slaughterhouse. Next, Skip's Critter Cutting slaughters the animal and wraps the meat according to the Food Bank’s request.
Finally, Britton delivers the loads of hamburger and cube steak to the Food Bank, all donated in the name of the rancher who gave the cow.
“I keep it as painless as possible for the rancher and the Food Bank,” Britton says. “We work out the details in between.”
The rancher who help are entitled to a $500 tax-deductible donation per animal. “Knowing that your gift will result in a quality, high-protein meal for the needy is priceless,” says Britton.
Sheryle Shandy manages the Billings Food Bank, which distributes to several ministries, including the Montana Rescue Mission, Salvation Army and Family Services.
The Food Bank organizes ingredients to deliver with the meat that will make for a healthy meal easy enough for a senior citizen or a child to prepare. For instance, a pound of hamburger might be accompanied by a box of spaghetti and a can of tomato sauce.
“We try to make sure that all the families that come to the agencies have hamburger, because it's so universally usable,” explains Shandy.
She says the Cattlemen Feed the Needy program has already made a difference for the Food Bank.
“To have a cattleman actually come in and take the initiative — because he knows how to communicate with other ranchers and deal with feedlots and trucking and processing — it was just amazing,” she says of Britton’s plan. “I recently had a call from the wife of a couple who donated, and she expressed how pleased they were to know they could help. It’s a matter now of getting the word out to the other producers around the state that there is an easy way to help us.”
Britton has single-handedly gotten Cattlemen Feed the Needy off the ground, mostly with his own money. The program costs $300 per animal in processing and feeding expenses, and Britton has been paying out of his own pocket. But now he's asking businesses to come on board with donations to hold the program up. First to give were Stockman Bank and Yellowstone Bank.
His goal is to provide at least 10 cows per month through the program and keep it running year round.
Britton would eventually like to see Cattlemen Feed the Needy expand to other Montana cities like Miles City, Butte, Great Falls, Missoula, and Kalispell. “If somebody would be willing to do in their area what I’m doing here, I'll share what I know and we can make it work,” he says.
In the meantime, his main focus is keeping a good thing going in Billings. The program is constantly in need of more cattle, and Britton encourages every ranch to consider a regular donation. “It’s a little extra running around, but it’s worth it to reach out to those who need it most,” he says.
For more information, visit www.CattlemenFeedTheNeedy.com. If you’re planning to donate an animal, Britton asks that you contact him a day prior to the sale at 406.628.2593.