Food distribution efforts show many families still in need
While parts of the Aspen-area economy surged this summer despite the pandemic, the number of families facing hardship remains high, according to organizers of local food pantries.
Food Bank of the Rockies and Lift-Up both announced they would extend mobile food distribution efforts throughout the region in August because of ongoing demand. Both organizations undertook special efforts in response to the coronavirus crisis.
In Basalt, Food Bank of the Rockies has distributed food to an average of about 300 families per week since April.
“In the last few weeks, we’ve seen that increasing,” said Sue Ellen Rodwick, Food Bank for the Rockies branch director for the Western Slope. “Last week, we saw a record number of families, just over 350.”
The food bank provides the supplies and crews from Aspen Skiing Co. distribute it once per week on Thursdays. The distribution site will transfer from the Basalt Middle School parking lot to Crown Mountain Park’s parking area starting on Aug. 20.
In the upper valley, demand for food was high enough that Food Bank of the Rockies expanded from Aspen to Snowmass Village earlier this year. A single distribution point will be established starting Wednesday at Buttermilk parking lot, Rodwick said.
Food was distributed to 188 families at the Aspen Middle School site last week and 121 families at the Snowmass Village site, according to Rodwick. That’s a total of 309 families assisted. As a comparison, 293 families sought aid from the single upper valley distribution site in late April.
Rodwick said people have been stretched thin because of reduced hours of work. In other cases, family members have been out of work or in quarantine after someone in the household tested positive for COVID-19. Many people are accepting aid for the first time in their lives, according to Rodwick.
“There’s less stigma,” she said, “because everybody’s been in the same boat.”
Lift-Up announced Thursday it will continue one-day-per-week food distribution in Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, New Castle, Rifle, Parachute and DeBeque.
“Throughout June and July, Lift-Up consistently distributed emergency food bags to around 400 families each week, which is still nearly three times normal distribution numbers,” the nonprofit organization said in a statement. It was distributing 900 bags per week at the height of the crisis.
The bags have nonperishable staples, including canned, bagged and boxed food. Lift-Up also has a Farm to Food Pantry program where fresh produce, meat and dairy products are purchased from local farms and ranches. It helps local businesses while also providing fresh food options.
Lift-Up’s list of food distribution days is available at http://www.liftup.org or its Facebook page.
Anticipating demand remains a big challenge for organizers of the food aid efforts. Pitkin County reported last week that about 1,600 county residents have been receiving $600 per week in added unemployment benefits through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Program. Those payments, which come in addition to state unemployment aid, expired last week. It is uncertain if Congress will renew the program.
In addition, the number of jobs in the Roaring Fork Valley region typically dips in the offseason, when tourism eases. The seasonal trough could be even greater this year and the fate of ski season remains murky.
Rodwick said Food Bank of the Rockies anticipates greater demand this fall.
“OK, be ready for September — that’s kind of been the feel,” she said. “We’re ready for it.”
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