Summit County families struggle to cover both rent and food | SummitDaily.com

Summit County families struggle to cover both rent and food

Elise Reuter
ereuter@summitdaily.com

While Summit County has several resources to fight hunger, it remains a growing problem for thousands of locals. With more households putting a large portion of their income toward rent or mortgages, food banks and free community dinners across the county are even more of a necessity.

The county houses three food banks between Breckenridge, Silverthorne and Dillon, as well as a monthly mobile food pantry to cover every day of the week. At the Family and Intercultural Resource Center's biweekly food bank, about 1,400 families and individuals received nutritional assistance last year — about 90 to 150 people per month.

"I've been here for 12 years. I think this community right now is facing one of the biggest struggles for working families, based on income and cost of living," FIRC food bank coordinator Gaston Feuereisen said. "We see that on a daily basis. People say, 'I can't afford my rent.'"

Anita Overmyer, FIRC development and volunteer director, said that all of the nonprofit's clients spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing, some spending up to half of their salary on rent. In total, about 40 percent of Summit County households spend more than a third of their income on housing.

"We have seen that increase this year more than ever before," Overmyer said. "A lot of people will use the food bank so they can put as much of their paycheck as they can toward their housing, insurance or utility bill."

This trend is not only affecting seasonal workers and individuals, but local children as well. About 30 percent of Summit County children qualify for nutritional assistance through the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, and 37 percent of children qualify for a free or reduced lunch at school.

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"There are more people up here than ever before, and less inventory. It's putting more stress on what people can afford," Overmyer added, noting the FIRC had seen some instances of overcrowding, with some fitting a family of four in a studio. "It's a scary problem. It's great to see the towns are working toward more workforce housing."

While anyone can attend the FIRC's food bank once every three months, those who need to attend once per month are asked to fill out an application. Every Tuesday and Thursday, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., the FIRC will distribute between 6,000 and 10,000 pounds of food.

The majority of the FIRC's food is donated, with local businesses, resorts, churches and individuals contributing. Since Whole Foods opened, the grocery has donated fresh produce on a weekly basis.

"When we get large donations — if one of the resorts brings a truckload of food — we try to share the donations with other food banks," Feuereisen said. "It's a really big effort from the community."

While the FIRC has a pool of volunteers, the nonprofit will take more assistance, as well as protein-centered food donations, such as chicken, beans or dry rice.

"We get it all — families, seasonal workers, or in the summer, people who live in the woods come to us," Feuereisen said.

MOBILIZING DONATIONS

Every month, the Food Bank of the Rockies drives up 12,000 pounds of food to distribute to the county. While the mobile food pantry has been split between Silverthorne and Breckenridge, the service will now be in one centralized location, at the Summit Stage Bus Barn, located in Frisco at 0222 County Shops Road.

Feuereisen said the new location would be an improvement, as volunteers previously worked outside for hours as the weather dipped below freezing.

"The county was generous to open this facility," Feuereisen said.

Mobile pantry food coordinator Kelyn Anker said the service saw the most clients around the holidays, and in the summertime.

"…that's because the kids are out of school, and possibly not receiving breakfast or lunch at school anymore," she noted.

The mobile food pantry runs with assistance from FIRC and Agape Outpost volunteers. About 70 percent of the food is donated, and the rest is purchased at a discounted price. It is open to anyone, regardless of income.

"The purpose, hope and goal for mobile pantries is it to be a stopgap, or a temporary solution," Anker said. "The mobile pantry isn't intended to be there for forever. We're going to be there as long as we're needed."

According to Food Bank of the Rockies, more than 93 percent of food bank recipients have incomes below $30,000 per year. About 72 percent of recipients statewide choose between paying for utilities and food, 68 percent choose between transportation and food and 65 percent choose between paying their mortgage or rent and buying food.

While Summit County has just 2,435 residents living below federal poverty levels, many more are still affected by the cost of living.

"Most people are making over that federal poverty line, but not by much," Overmyer said. "The problem is that it's not enough to really live up here at this cost of living. That's where they run into trouble."

summit county food banks

Family and Intercultural Resource Center: Every Tue. and Thu., from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Father Dyer Food Pantry: Every Tue. and Thu. from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Dillon Community Church: Every Mon. and Wed. from 4:30-5:30 p.m., and Fri. from 1:30-2:30 p.m.

Mobile Food Pantry: At the Summit Stage Bus Barn, starting at 10 a.m. on the fourth Thursday of every month. The next one is Jan. 28.