Helping Hands: Rising need empties shelves at area food banks
December 13, 2012
Summit County’s four food banks have seen an increase in the number of people needing assistance this year. As a result, pantry supplies are dwindling.”We served more people in November than we ever served in the history of the Father Dyer food pantry,” Irene Moyer, the church-based pantry’s coordinator stated in an email. In 2011, the pantry served an average of 305 people per month. In 2012, that number has increased to 438 people per month. Father Dyer Church also sponsors a free community dinner every Sunday and the numbers have risen there as well. The week before Thanksgiving, for example, saw around 200 people attending one dinner. Attendance has hovered around 100 for the past few weeks. Moyer says that 60-80 diners can be seated and served at once, meaning any overflow have to wait to eat until space becomes available.Though no one needing food has been turned away, the pantries have had to stretch their supplies and get creative in order to meet the need.”You plan for a certain amount, and all of a sudden they keep coming,” Moyer said.The Dillon Community Church food bank has also seen its demand increase.”We’re up over 25 percent from last year, and that doesn’t include our November or December numbers. It’s substantial,” said Jude Mitchell, administrator at Dillon Community Church.Mitchell said that November and December are peak times in terms of need within the county. Another increase occurs in the early spring around March and April. While families do take advantage of the food banks and community dinners, organizers say the majority of clients tend to be single people, often seasonal workers. If hours are short and part-time jobs are unavailable, then it may become a struggle for them to afford both rent and food. This is where the food banks come in.”I really don’t feel I have very many that come every week because they’re destitute,” said Moyer. “It’s mostly that people can’t get part-time, or they can only get part-time. They don’t have the normal money coming in.”
The Family & Intercultural Resource Center’s food bank typically buys around 2,000 pounds of food per month from the Food Bank of the Rockies, where it can buy at a discount. Anita Overmeyer, developmental director at FIRC, said that number has recently been closer to 3,000.”It’s been difficult to keep the food bank stocked lately,” she said. “The shelves are clearing really quickly. It’s astounding.”In addition to food, the FIRC pantry provides toiletry staples such as diapers, shampoo, razors and soap – all items with demand higher than available stock.At Father Dyer’s food pantry, those in need can come in and receive a bag with eight items of food. Clients can pick out whichever items they wish, though Moyer does her best to provide a variety, both in nutrition and flavor. There’s always something with protein, for example, whether in the form of peanut butter, canned tuna, canned chicken or other products. Starbucks donates its day-old pastries, which can be popular.”We’ve had people come in right away and eat a Starbucks (pastry) because they’re just so hungry,” Moyer said. The pastries may not have a high nutritional value, but they offer something sweet among the many canned products.”You have to have some fun things,” Moyer said. “It’s nice to have a treat that you won’t spend your own money buying.”Community dinners at Father Dyer always involve fresh vegetables and fruits in addition to protein.
None of the food banks, which are mostly run by volunteers, are open all week. However, most of them have staggered the days that they are open so that those in need will have an option for most days of the week. Dillon Community Church’s food bank, for example, is open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, while Father Dyer’s food pantry has hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Each of the food banks makes an effort to direct clients to the most convenient location. Those in the Dillon/Silverthorne area may find it easier to visit the FIRC or Dillon Community Church food banks, while those near Breckenridge can rely on Father Dyer.”We really try to send folks to whoever’s open,” said Mitchell. “We try to collaborate with each other.”The sense of community stretches beyond the food banks themselves into those who find themselves visiting them.”It’s great camaraderie for them, too, to meet other people and network,” said Moyer of those attending the Father Dyer community dinners.Deborah Hage, a member of the Summit County Rotary Club, which organizes its own community dinner, agrees. The Rotary Club has been feeding as many as 500 people at a time. While it’s not a record-breaking number, Hage says it’s higher than normal. Ample space at the dinner location in the Elk’s Grand Lodge is beneficial, but community-style seating arrangements encourage togetherness.”All sorts of people are thrown together at a table,” Hage said. “I think that adds to the sense of community.”Above all, those working at the food banks and community dinners feel, especially recently, how essential their work is. “It’s something important that we do that we’re really proud of,” Hage said.