Giving Thought: A shout-out to those who feed the hungry
The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered an ongoing avalanche of need — for financial help, for health care, for fellowship and for food.
The Aspen-to-Parachute region has mustered an exceptional response to the huge and continuing need for food, and arguably the backbone of that effort has been the Food Bank of the Rockies. The organization procures and distributes food to hungry people in 30 Colorado counties and Wyoming as well. The Western Slope of Colorado, including the Roaring Fork Valley, is served by the organization’s Palisade warehouse and office, which ramped up its distributions drastically in March, and has been hustling to help thousands in need ever since.
“This is an area that’s struggling economically,” said Western Slope Director Sue Ellen Rodwick. “Looking at unemployment numbers, Pitkin and Eagle counties are higher than the Colorado average. And there are people who aren’t working and not getting unemployment.”
Food Bank of the Rockies has long served the Roaring Fork Valley, so to understand the scale of the recent expansion, it helps to compare 2019 with 2020.
In November 2019, when few of us had heard the word “coronavirus” and food distributions occurred monthly, the Food Bank delivered 37,487 pounds of food to the upper valley. In November 2020, the mobile food pantries In Aspen and El Jebel occurred weekly (and every other week in Snowmass Village) and the figure leapt to 217,352 pounds. The week before Thanksgiving set a record.
“We’ve gone from serving 150 families per month to serving 758 families per week,” Rodwick said.
Of course, every mobile food pantry requires at least one partner organization to accept the delivery and then give the food to the public. Rodwick added that the Food Bank is “extremely fortunate” to have partners like Aspen Family Connections and the Aspen Skiing Co.’s events team to hand out food boxes to the hundreds of families whose lives have been upended by the pandemic.
“We can do a lot more than we think we can,” she said, speaking for her organization and its community partners. “New collaborative partnerships have made the seemingly impossible possible.”
Of course, Food Bank of the Rockies does not cultivate or produce all of the food that it distributes. The organization purchases 10% to 15% of its food — much of it from Colorado producers of meat, dairy products, fruits and vegetables — but also depends on relationships with manufacturers that donate food, Grocery Rescue agreements with large retailers, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which ramped up its hunger relief efforts in March as part of the 2020 CARES Act.
The USDA portion of Food Bank of the Rockies’ truckloads has gone from 18% to between 40% and 50% since the onset of the pandemic.
At Aspen Community Foundation, we are extremely grateful to all the individuals and organizations that have helped to execute these impressive food-relief efforts. It is remarkable, and sometimes even heroic, to see what we can do when we join hands and work together with real purpose.
Another upside of this strange chapter is the way it has leveled the playing field of our stratified society. People from all walks of life have felt the sting of this pandemic, and it has become clear just how much we all need one another.
“One silver lining that I’ve seen is an equalizing effect,” Rodwick observed. “We have people driving up to these distributions in everything from a Lexus to a beat-up old station wagon. It’s helped to reduce the stigma of needing help.”
If you need help, or someone you know needs help, then Rodwick recommends the following online resources: for food near you, try foodbankrockies.org/find-food, and for various kinds of pandemic-related help, try a2pcovid.org.
Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of Aspen Community Foundation.