Shelf reliant

Food bank keeps busy with increase of unemployed

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The people who see the food come and go daily at the local food pantry know much about the holiday practice of giving and receiving.

"You give it away, and you hope that someone will help to fill those empty shelves again," said Penny Lucas, LIFT-UP community resource case manager.

Keeping the shelves stocked at the LIFT-UP Food Bank poses a difficult challenge, she said, as seasonal workers who find themselves without the jobs they expected must turn to the food bank.

"They come to us, and we try to help them as much as we can," she said.

As many as 27 people have visited the food bank in one afternoon, LIFT-UP executive director David Freseman said.

Yet the empty shelves are somehow replenished, he said, despite the high volume of clients.

"It's like the Biblical feeding of the 5,000," he said. "People leave with bags of food, and somehow we manage to have our shelves restocked once again.

"We owe that to the community."

Word of mouth brought Michelle Frankenberger and Abigail Herfurtner to the food bank Friday afternoon.

Like many 20-somethings who assumed their seasonal jobs would kick in right away, they came to Steamboat with no expectations of finding themselves in need of LIFT-UP's services.

"People who aren't getting to work on the mountain as soon as they would like are really hurting right now, so everybody's telling everybody about this place," said Frankenberger, 22.

The women were surprised to find a community outreach for people in need of some help.

Frankenberger, who previously worked as a ski instructor in Vail, said Vail offered nothing comparable to LIFT-UP's efforts.

A robust economy at the time, however, guaranteed two and three different jobs to seasonal employees, who now face a tight job market, she added. Young people willing to work the hours never had to worry much about money.

"This is amazing that the people of Steamboat would provide something like this for people who are trying to get by," she said. "It means a lot that we've got something like this."

Frankenberger was able to begin her job as a children's ski instructor on Saturday, but the wait left her tight for cash for a week or two, she said.

Herfurtner, 22, moved from Michigan to work for the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. as well.

Waiting around to work can be frustrating, she said, but many other seasonal workers share her same plight.

"We're all sort of in the same boat," she said. "We all came out here, expecting to have a little more money than we have, and instead everybody's struggling a little."

People who choose to work in Steamboat during the winter realize the kind of situation they are getting into, Herfurtner said, but it helps to have a safety net like LIFT-UP.

"These people who don't even know us but are willing to help us out shows how great this community is," she said.

"I don't know what we would do without it."

Lucas and Freseman said the generosity of residents and organizations allows the food bank to keep up with recent demand for its services.

"If it weren't for some of the area food drives, we wouldn't be able to feed these people," Lucas said.

LIFT-UP's effectiveness depends to a degree on the generosity of Steamboat residents, she said. The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts will join forces between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. today at City Market and Safeway to help LIFT-UP stock up on food items. The annual event, previously run solely by the Boy Scouts, provides shoppers on their way into the stores with a list of needed items for the food bank. Shoppers can then place the items they purchased in a sleigh on their way out, Boy Scouts service project coordinator David Reed said.

"It's a convenient way for people to give without a lot of hassle," Reed said.

The Boy Scouts usually collect a few truckloads of donated items that are then immediately transported to the food bank, he added.

One of the newer efforts by the community to assist LIFT-UP began last December at Bud Werner Memorial Library.

Youth services librarian Currie Meyer decided to follow the lead of other libraries that offer people with late fees the chance to pay off their fines with non-perishable food items.

Children 18 and younger can participate in the Food for Fines program throughout December.

Last year the library collected 830 items and deducted $460 from library fines to LIFT-UP.

"We're essentially donating the equivalent of that money to LIFT-UP," Meyer said. "The money we collect from fines is really critical to our operation, so we can't do it all year. But it's important that we are able to do it in December."

The food drive provides relief in a creative way and allows Steamboat's youngest residents to help make a difference, she said.

Area businesses and individuals faithfully support the food bank, LIFT-UP volunteer Grace Dubendorf said, with donations small and large.

Late Friday afternoon, she was helping two newcomers to Steamboat fill their bags with enough food to get them through the week.

Mark West and Nick Hutchens arrived from Australia last week to take advantage of a lauded surplus of winter jobs, but their expectations did not materialize upon arrival.

With no job and no place to live, they have managed to survive on the graciousness of strangers.

The people at LIFT-UP surprised them, the 22-year-old West said, because they did nothing to merit the assistance.

"We've been running into dead ends all week, with no jobs opening up," he said. "Then we heard about this place."

West and Hutchens said they are hoping for a break in their unsuccessful job hunts when they go for interviews on Monday.

Until then, they will thank their lucky stars for people such as Lucas and Dubendorf.

"A lot of people have fallen on some hard times recently," Dubendorf said.

"It's our privilege to help them get back on their feet."

To reach Danie Harrelson call 871-4208

or e-mail dharrelson@steamboatpilot.com

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