LIFT-UP of Routt County Food Bank volunteer Margay Coss assists a client Thursday afternoon. The food bank is experiencing strong demand.

Photo by Matt Stensland

LIFT-UP of Routt County Food Bank volunteer Margay Coss assists a client Thursday afternoon. The food bank is experiencing strong demand.

LIFT-UP of Routt County feels the economic crunch

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LIFT-UP fundraisers

Hayden Valley Elementary School children raised nearly $500 for the Hayden Food Bank by collecting pennies. The children collected the money the last week of October as part of Red Ribbon Week, which focuses on safety and drug awareness, para educator Tena Frentress said.

"We think they went home and raided any penny jar and sofa cushions they could find," she said.

Mountain Valley Bank provided $200 for the week's activities, and the students raised more than 100 pounds of pennies, amounting to $494.75. Educators related the fundraising back to drug awareness, Frentress said.

"We talked to the kids about how people's lives were sometimes impacted by drug use," she said. "We told them sometimes people need help. ... The food bank is one place where people sometimes go to get help."

To donate:

- The Steamboat Kids Community Service Club will collect donated children's toys from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday in front of Wal-Mart in Central Park Plaza. Ann Henderson, who helped organize the toy drive, said the group is looking for any suitable holiday gifts for children as old as 14. The toys will be distributed by LIFT-UP of Routt County in December. For more information, call Henderson at 846-6218.

- Colorado Mountain College students will collect nonperishable food items from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at CMC's Monson Hall. The first 50 people to donate food will be offered a free wax, base grind or edge grind, performed by students in CMC's Ski Tuning II class. All food donors will be entered in a raffle; prizes include free skis or a snowboard designed by CMC students and three free credit hours at CMC. For more information, call Bruce Beckum at 846-2869.

By the numbers:

Services provided by the LIFT-UP Food Bank

- 486 bags of food distributed in September; 835 bags distributed in October

- 307 people served in September; 559 people served in October

- 688 bags of food distributed in October 2007; 835 bags distributed in October 2008

- 408 people served in October 2007; 559 people served in October 2008

— LIFT-UP of Routt County is preparing for maximum capacity.

In the past month, the organization has seen a spike in demand for its food bank, a surge of shoppers in its thrift store and a flood of requests for rental assistance, LIFT-UP Executive Director David Freseman said.

In September, the LIFT-UP Food Bank distributed 486 bags of food. In October, it distributed 835. Freseman said the increase is indicative of a local working population that has endured a slow off-season, layoffs and reduced scheduling.

"It's just skyrocketed," Freseman said about the demand for aid. "The food bank is open from 1 to 5 in the afternoons, and we're often seeing a steady stream of people all afternoon, which is truly a new thing. We have had busy days before, but never like this."

The food bank has handled the increased demand by using increased revenue from the LIFT-UP Thrift Store to purchase low-price groceries from Food Bank of the Rockies. Frequent local food drives also have helped keep the shelves stocked. Students at Colorado Mountain College have organized a drive scheduled for 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and will trade free ski or snowboard tunes with the first 50 people to bring five or more nonperishable food items to Monson Hall.

"I really think that it's important to get students involved in the community, and this is a step toward that," CMC professor Bruce Beckum said. Two students in Beckum's Interpersonal Communication class organized the drive, and students in CMC's Ski Tuning II class will perform the tunes.

Events such as the CMC benefit have kept the food bank reserves level, but funding for other LIFT-UP projects has dried up, Freseman said.

"We're running out of money," he said. "The need that LIFT-UP is having now and in the future is in funds to provide rental assistance."

LIFT-UP uses a collection of grants and donations to provide as much as one month's assistance to people who are having trouble paying for housing. Typically, four households will request that assistance in a two-week span. In the past two weeks, 14 households have made requests.

"Our assistance can often go between $300 and $800. Even if the average were $500, if you multiply that, you're talking about a lot of money," Freseman said.

The organization would need $7,000 to meet requests from the past two weeks.

"We don't have that money in that fund," Freseman said. "Not anywhere near it."

Freseman said he wasn't sure whether demand for food and other aid would increase in coming months, but he doesn't anticipate a lag in that demand anytime soon. That might mean calling for more help from the community after holiday season food drives end.

"It's into next year that we're going to have to call for more community food drives than we normally need at that time of year, because the budget for purchasing food, even though it's increased dramatically, it may not be able to keep up," Freseman said.

The LIFT-UP Donation Center is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Freseman said the organization's most immediate need can be met with monetary donations directed to LIFT-UP's housing needs fund. Call 870-0727 to help.

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