Sarah Gaither Bivins moved to Big Sky “to be a ski bum for a minute” but is now celebrating her seventh year as Big Sky Community Food Bank’s first employee and Operations Manager.
With several years under her belt, Gaither understands that most people turn to the food bank because of high housing costs. “There are so many stories of people coming through here because of housing. One gal the food bank helped had lived in Big Sky for years. She started out working at a resort, moved on, and found a partner that she wanted to live with,” Gaither said.
After looking for months, the couple found a condo near town center for $3,200 a month. Between rent and utilities, they spent 63% of their income on housing, forcing them to supplement their cupboards at the food bank.
“This has become the new normal for people aged 25-35 living here. They are spending more than half of their income on housing,” Gaither said. “Young professionals leaving Big Sky is a real loss. People don’t want to live with six other adults and a filthy kitchen. As you get older, it’s no longer palatable to do that.”
Gaither knows all too well about professionals forced to leave because it’s her story too. She and her husband lived in Big Sky for five years when their landlord ended their lease. “All of our friends were getting kicked out too, so we moved to Bozeman and have been there the last three years.”
Despite the commute, Gaither loves her job. “The best part of my job is providing food and nutrition, but I love when we get to surprise people. I’ve helped people with their resumes. I’ve helped people do their taxes. We have boots and hats and toiletries. People come here for food, but I’m happiest when we surprise them with more.”
Most of Gaither's customers only visit two or three times a year when the unexpected injury, illness, or car problem occurs. But regardless of why people visit the food bank, Gaither believes that “people make better decisions when they have full bellies. That’s the reason we do this, and that’s the only reason I need.”