The shelves are scarce in the storage room at LIFT-UP of Routt County where volunteer Paula Huselton was working Tuesday afternoon.

Photo by Matt Stensland

The shelves are scarce in the storage room at LIFT-UP of Routt County where volunteer Paula Huselton was working Tuesday afternoon.

Food bank straining to meet local demands

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— The larders at the LIFT-UP of Routt County Food Bank aren't quite bare, but the bank's monetary accounts are just about empty as the group faces increasing demands.

LIFT-UP Executive Director David Freseman said the pantry still is stocked but that the group has spent $11,234 this year, and even though the budget was doubled from 2007, only $11,800 was allocated for the whole year.

The group now is asking the community to increase donations to get through the year. The food drive continues Friday at the Lez Zeppelin concert, beginning at 5:30 p.m. at the base of Howelsen Hill.

"The demand is so heavy that we're struggling to keep up," Freseman said.

The food bank stocks its pantry through purchases and food donations. Freseman said the food bank has operated through 90 percent donations in past years, but because of the sharp increase in demand this year, more goods are being purchased, through local businesses and the Food Bank of the Rockies, a low-cost, bulk-food provider.

"It's very inexpensive food, but when you have to buy so much of it, it really adds up," Freseman said, adding that LIFT-UP purchased $1,700 worth of food in June to meet demand.

Starlene Collins, manager of the Western Slope office of the Food Bank of the Rockies, where LIFT-UP buys its food, said many of the organizations she supplies have increased their orders or switched from more luxury items to strictly necessities.

LIFT-UP is relying on its community to help meet the increased demand and has been hosting food drives at the free concert series throughout the summer. Freseman said the response has been moderate.

Tough decisions

Residents who rely on LIFT-UP represent a cross section of the community, Freseman said. According to the group's data, about 60 percent of the clients are Caucasian, while most of the remainder are Hispanic. Many of the food recipients also are seasonal workers, Freseman said, adding that the bank regularly sees a rush of customers in April when workers have moved to town but have not received their first paycheck.

About half of the customers are regular visitors, Freseman said. All users must fill out an application and provide a photo identification to use the food bank.

Alfred Parker, administrator for the Salvation Army of Mesa County and its food bank, said he has seen many people faced with hard decisions because of the decline in the economy.

"Middle-class folks, it's hard for us. But folks who are hanging on by their fingernails now, it's almost obscene," he said. "I have at least one senior I've talked to where it's 'heat or eat' and eating cat food. The seniors have all kinds of recipes (for cat food)."

Parker said cat food costs 10 cents per can.

Freseman said people in Routt County also are making hard decisions, including choosing whether to take children to the doctor or buy food.

"It's balancing. Do I pay the whole rent or do I buy food?" he said.

So far, the local food bank has had enough supplies to meet all requests. Freseman said he's not yet worried that the funds and food will run out, but the increased demand has put the organization in a crunch.

"We need every can of food people can possibly spare," Freseman said. But he was wary of straining the generosity of Steamboat.

"LIFT-UP has always been conscious of over-taxing the generosity of the community," he said. "But under the circumstances, we may be asking for more food drives and donations."

The problem probably will not be solved any time soon, he said.

"There have been little flares here and there when we have been hard hit, but nothing in comparison to what's going on now," Freseman said.

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