Going above and beyond to feed the hungry during Christmas week

Aspen Skiing Co. workers volunteer for special food distribution effort

For the past 40 weeks, Aspen Skiing Co. workers have staffed a mobile food pantry in the midvalley. On Tuesday, they put in an extra effort to make sure people didn’t go hungry the week of Christmas.

Most food distribution efforts in the Roaring Fork Valley region were put on hold this week for the holidays. The Skico team volunteered to provide the food Tuesday; Food Bank of the Rockies provided packaged goods in boxes.

A steady stream of vehicles inched through the mobile pantry at Crown Mountain Park in El Jebel between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. About 350 households from Aspen to Parachute picked up food.

“We didn’t feel this was the week not to have food distribution,” said Joey Woltemath, Skico’s senior operations manager in event marketing and a leader of the company’s food distribution efforts.

Hannah Berman, Skico’s sustainability and philanthropy manager added, “On Christmas, we want to make sure people have food on their tables.”

Food remaining from Tuesday was going to be shared Wednesday at Aspen Family Connections’ food distribution effort in Aspen.

Skico workers started staffing a mobile food distribution site in the midvalley in April, soon after the coronavirus pandemic hit. They have stuck with it every week since.

Woltemath said they will continue providing the labor as long as needed. Many employees volunteer their time and put in extra effort to cover responsibilities at their regular jobs.

So far, Skico workers have put in 5,500 hours over 40 weeks at the mobile food distribution sites. The number of households served peaked around Thanksgiving at 450 just at the midvalley site. Food Bank of the Rockies and Lift-Up have served hundreds more at other locations.

Skico’s teams initially distributed food at Basalt Middle School. They transferred to Crown Mountain Park in the fall. More than 300 households have consistently been given food each week throughout the pandemic.

“With today’s numbers, we hit 10,000 households (served cumulatively),” Berman said. That equates into about 1 million pounds of food distributed. The Christmas week box included produce, which isn’t always available.

John Rigney, a Skico senior vice president who oversees the events department, said the staff hours, food distributed and households served are “absolutely astounding.”

“But the part that impressed me the most is the manner in which our events team and others at Aspen Skiing Company sprang into action,” he said in an email. “They owned it from the beginning, figuring out how to handle the people, product and all the logistics.”

Berman said organization is the forte of the events crew. She said volunteers from several other departments at Skico also have chipped in over the nearly nine months.

Skico officials anticipate the need for food distribution continuing well into 2021. While the vaccine for COVID-19 is being distributed, the number of people with the virus is soaring in the region. Woltemath said it remains uncertain how the economy will perform this winter, given capacity limits on nearly all types of businesses. Many people are unemployed or underemployed.

Berman said providing free food helps people conserve their money for rent or mortgage and health care needs.

The midvalley mobile food distribution will be held Tuesdays at Crown Mountain Park at noon for the foreseeable future, Woltemath said. It will no longer be held Thursdays.

“People needed help,” she said. “It’s been eye-opening for all of us.”

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