A collaborative effort: Aspen Family Connections brings food distribution, support to Snowmass

On May 1, the Snowmass Town Park and rodeo lots were the busiest they had been in weeks.

Cars lined up perpendicular to the parking spaces, drivers waiting to register their households with volunteers before moving up to a tent where a large box of free food was waiting for them. Locals picked up meat, bread, eggs, canned goods and special items for kids and pets, all offered as part of Aspen Family Connections’ first Snowmass Village Food Distribution day to help residents get through the COVID-19 crisis.

And on this first day, 348 individuals from 147 households showed up, with 85% identifying as Snowmass Village residents.

“It’s incredible. There’s definitely more demand than I thought,” said Erin Kinney, a Snowmass Village local and case manger with Aspen Family Connections. “People seemed really excited and very grateful that we are doing this.”

Aspen Family Connections is a family resource center based within the Aspen School District that supports and provides case management services to Pitkin County families year-round, including those in Snowmass Village.

For the past three years as one of the resource center’s three case managers, Kinney has met with dozens of local families to see what their needs are and to create a tailored approach to address those needs, often utilizing other community organizations and resources to help.

“We act as the spoke that gets folks connected with the other agencies in our community that can help them,” Kinney said. “We look to help the entire family, supporting the whole unit moving forward to make sure everyone is doing well emotionally, mentally, physically and financially.”

But since COVID-19 was first linked to Pitkin County and the stay-at-home public health order was put in place, Kinney said her case management has shifted somewhat as her family meetings are now virtual, not face to face. However, Kinney said the focus is still on supporting families in a collaborative, team environment and ensuring they’re connected to the resources they need.

Kinney also said since the COVID-19 crisis started, her caseload has gone up at least 25%, amounting to about 20 families she’s checking in with on a weekly basis.

On a larger scale, Aspen Family Connections has moved quickly to start offering weekly, free food distributions for the county community. It also has organized food deliveries for families and individuals who may not be able to leave their homes, has supplied financial aid for “second tier” bills like utilities, internet or car payments, and has connected families with additional emergency relief and financial resources if needed.

“We knew some of our families were going to be impacted by the world shifting from underneath them and wanted to at least provide the basic need of food so folks could take that off of their plate,” Kinney said, who has been helping out at the food distribution days.

For the past eight weeks, Alyssa Shenk, a Snowmass Village resident and Town Council member, also has helped with the Aspen Family Conenction food distributions, specifically those held every Thursday at Aspen Middle School.

Although Shenk volunteers a lot of her time with the Aspen School District and knows about the family resource center, this has been the first time she’s volunteered directly with them.

“I thought it’d be a nice thing to do as a way to help, get out of the house and interact with people from a safe distance,” Shenk said. “It’s in my nature to volunteer and I thought this would be a really good use of my time.”

Since she’s been helping out with the free food distribution, Shenk said she’s gained a better understanding of the great level of support Aspen Family Connections offers to families, especially now during the COVID-19 crisis, and the strong relationships they have with residents beyond school doors.

And now, with the help of a $10,000 grant from the Snowmass Rotary Club and support from the town, Aspen Family Connections has been able to extend its support to village locals more directly by starting up a Snowmass food distribution day and putting a food donation bin outside of Clark’s Market. Food distribution will take place every other Friday in May, with the next distribution scheduled for May 15 from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.

The Snowmass Rotary grant money also will allow Aspen Family Connections provide more financial support for village residents needing help paying their smaller bills, as previously reported.

For Shenk, this direct support for Snowmass locals is great to see and much needed. She said she knows many village residents have been coming to the Aspen food distribution days, which continue to serve more and more locals each week.

“The need is not just within one segment of the community,” Shenk said. “It’s overwhelming, sometimes you leave and just want to cry because you know how appreciative people are and so incredibly grateful for whatever you’re able to offer them.”

Moving forward, both Shenk and Kinney said they expect to see demand for COVID-19 relief increase in Snowmass Village. The women hope to see more locals at the town food distribution days and encourage more people to reach out for help, no matter how big or small their ask may be.

“This is a collaborative effort for sure between the families and community partners,” Kinney said. “Please, feel free to reach out, we’re happy to answer questions and to check in and to just see how folks are doing. … So whether it be through the food distribution or weekly check-ins or our community partners, we’re trying to cast that net to make sure people aren’t falling through.”


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