Family & Intercultural Resource Center upgrades food pantry as it prepares for summer operations
The Family & Intercultural Resource Center is gearing up for summer, and officials say there’s still considerable need for food, mental health and other support services in the community. As a result, the center is making some adjustments to help ensure those in need can still receive the resources they require to stay in Summit County.
Brianne Snow, the resource center’s executive director, provided a tour of the nonprofit’s Breckenridge food pantry to the Summit Board of County Commissioners last week, providing an update on how operations have changed since the onset of the pandemic and how the center is switching things up to meet demand.
In short, Snow said the group was prepared to take on a busy summer ahead. Before the pandemic, the nonprofit would typically serve about 30 families at its food pantries on a busy day. That number grew to about 200 a day during the height of business shutdowns and has since settled back down to between 15 and 65 a day.
“We are set going into summer if the level of need stays the same,” Snow said. “We’ve written a lot of grants, and we’ve been eligible for a lot of food programs on top of community support.”
The effort to expand to meet the current demand was significant. In March 2020, before the county began the first business shutdowns, the center closed the Breckenridge thrift store and was forced to lay off its employees when it became clear it wouldn’t reopen anytime soon. The site was left largely vacant until May, when the resource center decided to turn the building into a food distribution hub for the center’s expanded food pantry, which included Smart Bellies and the Bag Ladies.
While officials do expect the level of need to grow somewhat as the county enters mud season, Snow said the current level is sustainable through the coming months if there are no more business shutdowns.
Another major concern ahead of summer is whether the center would be able to address the community’s needs with children unable to get school lunches. Last year, the Summit School District expanded food services so students could pick up grab-and-go meals for themselves and their families. Snow said the district plans to help distribute food this summer, as well, and that the two organizations would meet this week to begin ironing out the details. She noted that the distribution of food to the county’s children and their families is more of a logistical problem than a financial one.
“It’s not all about money,” Snow said. “It really is bodies there. Little kids are coming, they don’t have parents with them, and they’re accessing food. We need a lot of people to make this work five days a week at five different schools throughout the community. It’s massive.”
The resource center is also making changes at the food pantry to better support access and health among its users. Until now, the pantry was open from noon to 1 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. This month, the center has expanded hours from noon to 6 p.m. at the Breckenridge pantry on Mondays and the Silverthorne pantry on Tuesdays.
“People were reaching out and letting us know that time wasn’t working for them,” Snow said. “And so we did a community survey, and it came out that (was a problem) across the board, and so that’s why we decided to open it up much larger than we were initially anticipating doing.”
The center is also beginning a new farm to food pantry program, partnering with Colorado farmers to get fresh meat, dairy, produce and fruit brought to the pantry to provide more healthy options. Snow said the program would create more expenses and require more support from the community to maintain but ultimately would provide a better service.
“Getting fresh corn is a lot more expensive than getting canned corn,” Snow said. “And so we’re going to need this community support in order to pull this off. But we do feel like its an important endeavor because we are in the middle of a pandemic. It is really important for us to make sure people have access to fresh fruits and vegetables.”
Snow said the pandemic has shined a light on other issues facing the community outside of food security, namely the exodus of much of the county’s workforce. Snow said the resource center has several open positions, mostly in its mental health services, that they can’t fill because applicants can’t afford housing in the area.
The problem extends to the people the center is trying to serve, as well.
“Our clients mostly work a couple jobs and try to piece everything together,” Snow said. “It’s not that they’re not working; they’re just not working enough or making enough to afford housing. And then they’re coming in with these situations where they’ve lived in a rental home for five years and all of a sudden the owner would like to move back out of the blue, and they can’t buy back into the market.
“They’ve lived here for five years. They have three kids. They have a dog. These are families that have lived here for a long time that are affected by this that are leaving.”
The commissioners voiced that addressing recovery efforts around housing and mental health were among their top priorities and that solutions were being developed in both the short and long term.
“The priority for the (Board of County Commissioners) right now is certainly focused on economic resiliency, and we had a conversation two weeks ago now about supporting the creation of an economic development cooperation in conjunction with looking at diversifying our economy,” Commissioner Tamara Pogue said. “We certainly have mental and behavioral health high on our list at the moment. … Housing is also something that we are thinking about, talking about and trying to find some quick strategies to provide some significant relief to our community.”
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