Aspenites eating up ‘Free Lunch Fridays’ from fire department
Whoever said there is no such thing as a free lunch hasn’t been to the downtown Aspen fire station during the COVID-19 crisis on a Friday.
Since public health orders shuttered the local economy in mid-March, hundreds of midday meals have been distributed by the volunteer fire department on behalf of donors.
It started with the Aspen Art Museum wanting to help front-line first responders by donating lunches through Epicure Catering, said Grant Jahnke, fire prevention specialist for the Aspen Fire Protection District.
The effort quickly morphed into a twice-weekly distribution of between 70 and 110 lunches that are benefiting anyone who desires or needs a free meal.
“I think the best part is that we are getting the public involved,” Jahnke said. “It’s really neat to see some folks that are really benefiting from this program.”
The original idea was to feed law enforcement, emergency services, fire personnel and 911 dispatchers as a thank-you.
“The first responders are fortunate because they are getting paid, but what about people who are laid off?” Jahnke said, adding that momentum has been building and donations are growing.
“Because of the generous and consistent donations, we’ve been able to distribute lunches to the homeless shelter, every fire agency in the valley, Aspen Ambulance, nearly every law enforcement agency in the valley including 911 dispatchers, and to hundreds of members of the public,” he said.
The Aspen Meadows Resort donated 30 lunches from Grateful Deli a few weeks ago, and Dana Presutti from Lugano Diamonds donated 30 lunches from Clark’s Market last week.
Local resident Pete Hoffman donated 30 lunches from the Butcher’s Block this past Friday, and Jen’s Cafe Bars in Basalt donated over 50 of her bars last month.
The museum continues to provide roughly 70 lunches through Epicure.
Jahnke said the fire department has the capacity to distribute more lunches if people want to donate.
“We’ll take it and we will keep running it if the need is there,” he said. Wednesday’s distribution is set aside for on-duty first responders throughout the valley.
Fridays are now known as “Free Lunch Friday” for anyone who wants a meal and has made a reservation for pick-up via email at email@example.com the day prior.
People are asked to pick up their lunch between 11:15 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. in front of the fire station on Hopkins Avenue.
Jahnke said Wednesday that four or five people had signed up for this week, but the demand has been high.
“I’ve had to turn people away,” he said, “but I put them on the list for the next week.”
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Aspen City Council is considering yet again to ask voters whether to repurpose Wheeler real estate transfer tax for another community use. The idea has been discussed dozens of times over the years by various councils.