Baguettes feed the hungry in the Roaring Fork Valley | AspenTimes.com

Baguettes feed the hungry in the Roaring Fork Valley

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times

The Baguettes are pictured in 2009. From left are Martha Luttrell, Dianne Light, Libby Sullivan, Christine Nolen, Lynda Palevsky, Karen Hollins, Katie Kitchen and Ellen Hunt.

Not far from Aspen, one of the wealthiest towns in the nation, is the struggle of poverty, where families are sometimes forced to choose between paying bills and putting food on the table.

According to a local nonprofit, nearly 8 percent of the Roaring Fork Valley lives below the poverty line. In places like Rifle and Parachute, where the oil and gas industry once flourished, families are fending off homelessness. Children go to school four days a week, creating three-day weekends in which parents can't count on free lunch.

In 2009, Lynda Palevsky read an Aspen Times article about a food pantry in Carbondale where supply could no longer keep up with demand.

"It just triggered something in me that said, 'Wow, this is in our valley. We've got to do something about this,'" she said. "There's a lot of hunger in this valley, oddly enough."

She and eight other women, mostly longtime locals with nonprofit experience, teamed up to form the Baguettes, a group that raises "dough" for hunger. In 2009, they reached out to the Aspen Community Foundation, which helped them establish a donor-advised fund. They also joined forces with Lift Up to open the Aspen Food Pantry, which continues to operate today on Tuesdays and Thursdays below Clark's Market.

Martha Luttrell, Dianne Light, Libby Sullivan, Christine Nolen, Karen Hollins, Katie Kitchen, Ellen Hunt and Dena Kaye, along with Palevsky, make up the Baguettes. This past year, they supported area nonprofits in providing food for 320 children through Reach Out Colorado's Totes of Hope program, while also funding another 243 totes for children at four New Castle schools. In these programs, kids are provided with food-filled backpacks each Thursday so they can get through the weekend without going hungry.

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Since its inception, the Baguettes have raised nearly $120,000 in grants for food services in the valley, quite an accomplishment considering their donor base is about 150 people. Palevsky said the goal and hope are that the need drops so significantly that the Aspen Food Pantry goes out of business. But even if it does, the Baguettes will look to continue giving back to the valley.

"There are pockets in our community that will always need some help," Palevsky said.

The group also distributes funds to all seven valley preschools as well as preschool mobile buses serving Carbondale and Rifle.

"They saw a lot of unmet food needs, even in Aspen and Pitkin County," said Valerie Carlin, deputy director for the Aspen Community Foundation. "People that were having to make the difficult choice between buying groceries or paying their rent. They wanted to do something about that, so they banded together and opened a fund here at the Community Foundation."

While raising money in the community, members also contribute from their own pockets. Those looking to help can contribute to the fund at the Community Foundation. They are also welcome to volunteer time at the food pantry.

"I think it's important that they recognized a need in the community and they banded together to meet that need," Carlin said. "And they didn't stop focusing on that need when we saw the economy start to improve. They are still very much dedicated to feeding people, so people don't have to make that difficult decision of putting food on the table and paying their bills."

The Baguettes' fund also has helped support evening meals at the Aspen Homeless Shelter and the food program Feed My Sheep Ministries. The largest grant this year went to Kim Wille, whose organization Growing Food Forward planted more than 90 gardens throughout the valley to supplement Lift Up food pantries.

herk@aspentimes.com