Guest column: Hunger here? | AspenTimes.com

Guest column: Hunger here?

Tamara Tormohlen
Guest Column

Aspen Community Foundation, Board Photo, Mar. 13, 2014

According to Hunger Free Colorado, 1 in 7 Coloradans and 1 in 5 Colorado children are hungry. Even in our region, known for its ski resorts and perceived as having a high standard of living, food insecurity is surprisingly common. As many as 37 percent of local residents are considered low-income, and many are unsure how they'll afford their next meal.

Hunger is widespread and can be caused by many things. Often, people struggle to make ends meet because of seasonal or low-wage jobs that don't keep up with the cost of living. When a medical emergency or some other misfortune strikes families who live from paycheck to paycheck, they're often forced to choose between paying a utility bill and putting food on the table. For seniors, many of whom subsist on a fixed income, hunger is even more prevalent.

"Let's face it — the rent in our area is fairly expensive," said Kim Loving, executive director of Rifle-based LIFT-UP, which runs seven food pantries between Aspen and Parachute.

"It's very difficult for people to make it on the wages they're paid," she said.

It's true that there are federal food-assistance programs, the best known being the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly called food stamps.

Participation in the program, unfortunately, is not high; only 1 in 10 residents of our state use food stamps. The reasons for this aren't entirely clear but may be related to the detailed application process, which helps prevent fraud but also presents a barrier for some. Eligibility is a barrier too. U.S. citizenship is required to receive food stamps, and a household's gross income cannot exceed 130 percent of the federal poverty guideline ($31,525 for a family of four), which doesn't stretch far enough here.

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Other federal food programs include Women, Infants and Children, which provides supplemental food for low-income pregnant women or new mothers and their young children, and Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which provides federal surplus food to low-income seniors.

And, of course, low-income children are provided a daily free or reduced-priced lunch at school. Forty percent of local students qualify for this program.

It's vital that anyone in doubt about their next meal enroll in these programs that can be a lifeline for struggling families.

Thankfully, for Roaring Fork Valley residents, numerous local resources are available, as well. Generous donors in our region have made it easier for nonprofit organizations to fill hunger needs in the communities from Aspen to Parachute.

Once a month from its seven pantries, LIFT-UP distributes bags containing a four-day, three-meal-per-day supply of food for families — no questions asked. Also through LIFT-UP, two "extended tables" offer hot meals. The Glenwood Springs Extended Table serves dinners Monday through Friday from 5 to 6 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church; the Rifle Extended Table serves each Tuesday and Thursday from 5 to 6 p.m. at the Rifle United Methodist Presbyterian Church.

The Aspen Homeless Shelter and Feed My Sheep Ministries offer hot meals for the homeless, and Stepping Stones in Carbondale provides dinner five nights a week for adolescents with nowhere to go. This is by no means an exhaustive list; so many wonderful churches, agencies, service groups, schools and businesses offer meals, holiday baskets and food supports to locals in need.

The main thing to bear in mind about hunger, especially around Thanksgiving, is that we're uniquely blessed in this region to have so many resources to keep our friends and neighbors fed. With the holidays on the horizon, it's also an important time to ask ourselves what we can do to support the less fortunate among us.

To shed more light on the reality of hunger in the Roaring Fork Valley, the Aspen Community Foundation, the Coalition of Emergency Assistance Providers and Hunger Free Colorado are involved in the Hunger Through My Lens project, which features photographs taken by local residents to give voice to the hunger they have experienced. An exhibition of the photographs will be displayed in the lobby of the Capitol in Denver and then here locally in February.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of Aspen Community Foundation.

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