Ever-busy food banks challenged by rising food prices and increased demand
LIFT-UP, Food Bank of the Rockies continue to fight food insecurities from Aspen to Rifle despite spike in costs and clients
Rising food and gas prices, a labor shortage and housing crisis, increased demand from families for meals — they all can place extra stress on food banks serving the Roaring Fork Valley. But those charitable organizations will still be feeding people during one of the busiest times of the year, Thanksgiving Day, and the upcoming holiday season.
“LIFT-UP does have sufficient food to meet food insecurity demands for this year’s Thanksgiving,” said Ivan Jackson, executive director of Rifle-based LIFT-UP, in an email responding to questions from The Aspen Times.
Like other food banks, Rifle-based LIFT-UP, which has a pantry at 465 N. Mill St. in Aspen, has seen rising demand for food distribution since the pandemic. The organization’s mission, in summary, is “to end food insecurity from Aspen to Parachute.”
“Food insecurity is not a problem that is going away and continues to have a direct impact on a wide and varied proportion of our community,” Jackson said.
People who previously might have not used food banks turned to their services due to financial struggles brought on by pandemic. Some of those people might already have had money problems that were pronounced by the pandemic; others were hit in the wallet after it struck. Those are observations from Sue Ellen Rodwick, the Western Slope director of Food Bank of the Rockies, which is funded with state and federal dollars, as well as donations.
“Before the pandemic, we were not reaching people who needed food in that region. And we knew that, and we were working on how to do a better job of that,” she said, noting from the pandemic emerged people and families needing help the organization hadn’t known about previously.
“Now people didn’t feel the stigma of receiving food,” she said. “And we were finally serving people who needed food all along.”
Two Aspen locations:
— Aspen Pantry, 465 N. Mill St., across from Clark’s Market
Hours: 1-3 p.m. Tuesdays; noon to 2 p.m. Wednesdays
— Buttermilk Food Truck
Hours: 1-3 p.m. Tuesdays; noon to 2 p.m. Wednesdays
More info: http://www.liftup.org
Food Bank of the Rockies
• A weekly mobile pantry in El Jebel at Crown Mountain Park is open noon to 1 p.m. Tuesdays
To find food: 970-464-1138 http://www.foodbankrockies.org/western-slope
To help Western Slope Food Bank of the Rockies: 970-464-1138 or 877-953-3937
More info: http://www.foodbankrockies.org
Since the pandemic, the greatest increase in demand for the services of Food Bank of the Rockies, which covers all of Wyoming and about half of Colorado, has come from the Western Slope, Rodwick said.
The 15% increase is “the highest in our entire distribution region,” she said. “It’s higher than Wyoming and in other parts of northern Colorado. And I’m sure it’s because of the sustained need between Aspen and Parachute.”
Demand isn’t the only thing increasing. So are food prices. Since last year at this time, beef is up 27%, the price of vegetable oil has risen 54% and canned fruit 30%, Rodwick said, noting shipping and freight costs have gone up 25%.
“Nowadays we’re spending triple the amount on purchased food than in 2019,” she said, noting that demand was compounded after the Farmers to Families Food Box Program was discontinued in May. The program had been administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and delivered a reported 133 million boxes of food in 2020.
Supply chain woes that have hurt other parts of the country have yet to greatly impact LIFT-UP or Food Bank of the Rockies.
“Thankfully, we’re not seeing major supply shortages, so that’s been good, but the items are costing more,” Rodwick said.
Jackson said: “Any increases in food costs have a direct financial impact on the services that LIFT-UP provides, as we have to purchase food to supplement food that is donated to us. Supply-chain problems have as yet not caused significant problems but I can see that if the issues continue, the problem could become more severe.”
LIFT-UP relies on donated food, Jackson said, but the organization must buy food, as well. LIFT-UP also plans to distribute gift cards to people so they can purchase food during the holiday season.
There is also the organization’s Farm to Food Pantry Program, which is an alliance with 26 farmers and ranchers who produced 20,000 pounds of food and 900 dozen locally sourced eggs in 2021, said Jackson, noting the nonprofit’s goal is to raise $300,000 to increase the amount of food it sources through the program in 2022.
Jackson touts the program as “supporting and growing local agriculture as a source of nutritious, culturally responsive food, that serves those experiencing food insecurity while strengthening and sustaining the local economy.”
Jackson and Rodwick said though demand initially fueled by the pandemic has waned, it remains high. Jackson also said food insecurity locally can be attributed to numerous factors, including a scarcity of housing and low wages. LIFT-UP currently serves 1,500 households and 3,000 people a month, he said.
“At the height of the pandemic, LIFT-UP experienced over a 600% increase in food insecurity demands,” he said. “The level of demand for food is still high due to a number of reasons, which include the continuation of fall out of the pandemic, lack of housing within the community, cost of housing within the community, which in turn both lead to increased transportation costs to and from work.
“Many of the employment opportunities within the community do not pay a livable wage to allow people to live close to Aspen, Basalt and Carbondale.”
LIFT-UP, working with Food Bank of the Rockies and aided by Aspen Family Connections, Aspen Skiing Co. and Aspen Community Foundation, and a group of steady volunteers, has been running mobile drive-thru pantry to help individuals and families since the pandemic. Its Aspen Golf Course location is now open the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month.
LIFT-UP also has operated a food pantry at Buttermilk on the second and fourth Wednesdays of November.