Roaring Fork Valley hunger remains a problem despite improving economy | AspenTimes.com

Roaring Fork Valley hunger remains a problem despite improving economy

Debi Boyle, left, food pantry manager at Lift-Up in Carbondale, and volunteer Lyn Byars sort through food from a weekly contribution by Whole Foods Market. City Market also provides bread, meat and produce so the pantries can offer healthier food.

Thousands of individuals and families in the Roaring Fork and lower Colorado River valleys are struggling to keep enough food on the table despite the improving economy.

The ones receiving aid are eating better than ever, thanks to efforts to provide fresh food and produce rather than canned and prepared foods.

The demand for services at Lift-Up's seven food pantries has eased a little bit since the height of the recession, according to Executive Director Kimberly Loving. The nonprofit provides food at pantries in Aspen, Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, New Castle, Rifle and Parachute. However, there remains a large number of unemployed, underemployed and homeless who receive aid. Rifle is the busiest pantry, followed by Carbondale, Loving said.

Lift-Up has provided food and occasionally other aid for 14,061 clients through September. The clients can be individuals to large families. While feeding the hungry is a year-round job, Lift-Up kicks its efforts up a notch during the holidays (see story at right).

Lift-Up's number of clients only hint at the need. Each household is allowed to stock up at the pantry four times per year. They can get enough groceries to last multiple days and possibly up to one week, Loving said. She said 28,182 bags of groceries had been given through September.

Last year, Lift-Up served 52,654 bags of groceries to 30,749 clients. Demand has dropped each year since 2010-11, Loving said. Roughly 48,000 people were assisted at the height of the recession.

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Loving said she guesses the numbers are falling because more people are back to work or some have left the area. "We don't ask a lot of questions," she said.

Lift-Up doesn't require families to pass a need-based test to receive food. If people say they are hungry, they are helped. A handful of clients are assisted with prescriptions, bus passes and thrift-store credits.

The contents of grocery bags are changing. Lift-Up, like many food pantries, provided a lot of foods that weren't models in the nutrition department. The organization is reducing the Hamburger Helper and increasing the meat, cheese and produce, according to Loving.

Debi Boyle, food pantry manager in Carbondale, said Whole Foods Market and City Market "bring in tons of stuff." Lift-Up has invested in coolers and refrigerators to keep more fresh foods. "People love it," she said.

The Grocery Rescue Program, run through Food Bank of the Rockies, provides Lift-Up with bread, meat and dairy products each week from City Market, Target and Wal-Mart. Whole Foods provides food independent of the program.

An organization called LiveWell Garfield County helped provide 8,600 pounds of produce to Lift-Up pantries in Parachute, Rifle, Glenwood Springs and Carbondale in 2013. LiveWell is part of a broader organization that promotes healthy living and helps charitable groups offer healthier foods. LiveWell stays in any given community for a couple of years, then moves on to help in other areas.

Jody Wilson, president of Lift-Up's board of directors, said the organization used to collect and purchase 100 percent non-perishable foods. The donations of some refrigerators and freezers spurred the organization to explore the possibilities. City Market helped the fledgling program immensely starting in 2008, Wilson said.

"They were instrumental in carrying us through," she said.

Lift-Up also is in the process of adopting a grocery points system that will favor healthy foods. People who come to the pantries will be given a points budget. Healthy foods will have low numbers; less healthy foods will have higher numbers. So shoppers will have a chance to stretch their budget further.

"It's going to be a little bit more dignity because it's like going to the grocery store," Loving said.

Research shows the program reduces waste compared to the old system of providing grocery bags with selected items. "They will be able to get what they want," she said.

Loving said Lift-Up also prides itself on cutting organizational fat. The nonprofit has a staff of five full-time and 7 part-time workers at its seven pantries and headquarters. It relies heavily on volunteers. Only 10 percent of its budget goes to administration — well below the typical nonprofit target of 20 percent, Loving said. Lift-Up has a $3 million annual budget. About two-thirds of the revenue comes from in-kind service.

scondon@aspentimes.com

John Denver funds help feed hungry

While the holidays are off in the distance for many of us, Lift-Up is in the thick of planning how to provide food baskets to hundreds of needy families and individuals for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The effort is off to the good start thanks to the John Denver Aspen Glow Fund, which is giving grants from revenues raised by the sale of the late singer’s Windstar Foundation property in Old Snowmass. The John Denver Aspen Glow Fund awarded a $36,000 grant to Lift-Up to buy $20 meat certificates that recipients of holiday gift baskets will be able to redeem at City Market stores for turkey or other meats. That will supply as many as 1,800 households.

Lift-Up typically provides 800 to 1,000 food baskets each on Thanksgiving and Christmas to households from Aspen to Parachute, according to Executive Director Kimberly Loving.

Karmen Dopslaff, a member of the Aspen Glow Fund’s governing board, said the organization helps Lift-Up because it is in line with Denver’s goal to end hunger worldwide.

“We like to know that John’s being represented to the people,” Dopslaff said. To achieve that goal, some lyrics from Denver’s song “It’s About Time” will be printed on the certificates for meat.

The lyrics read, “There’s a man who is my brother, I just don’t know his name. But I know his home and family because I know we feel the same. And it hurts me when he’s hungry and when his children cry. I too am a father, and that little one is mine.”

The Thanksgiving baskets are distributed Nov. 21 and 22. People who want to donate items specifically for Thanksgiving should do so by Nov. 15, Loving said.

Jody Wilson, president of Lift-Up’s board of directors, said people who want to help stock the pantries should remember that donations are needed all year-round. Lift-Up benefits from major food drives by real estate agents, Boy Scouts and other groups, but the smaller donations from homeowners cleaning out their pantries or picking up a few extra cans of food during trips to the grocery store are just as vital, Wilson said.

Other options are to give Lift-Up gift cards to City Market, Safeway and Whole Foods for perishable and canned foods. Cash donations are also accepted. Loving noted that Lift-Up can stretch dollars further because it can purchase food as discounted prices from Food Bank of the Rockies.

A list of items Lift-Up is collecting for the holidays can be found via a link for “Food Drive Information” at http://www.liftup.org.

scondon@aspentimes.com