When snow fails, charities shine for struggling resort workers in Summit County
December 11, 2017
SUMMIT COUNTY — While each season is different, a low-snow Groundhog’s Day is playing out in the mountains as we enter yet another December with little snowfall. Only eight lifts are open at Breckenridge, and conditions aren’t much better at other resorts.
Snow is the fuel for Summit’s economy. No powder means less terrain open for winter play, which means slower business and fewer hours for the thousands of seasonal workers who make Summit home during the winter. Lift operators, servers, and hospitality workers are among the many workers feeling the crunch of high rents and little pay. Basic necessities like food become luxuries.
These temporary residents, many whom come with expectations of 40-hour weeks to cover the bills, slide further into dire straits with each passing powder-less day.
Fortunately, Summit’s non-profits and charitable organizations are once again stepping up to offer a helping hand.
The Family and Intercultural Resource Center helps many seasonal workers find the help they need. Executive director Tamara Drangstveit said she is seeing a consistent pattern from last year, which also started with little snow.
“Any time there is a slow start to the season, we see an increase in need,” Drangstveit said. “There was also a slow start to the season last year, and it’s become fairly consistent year after year. We typically see a higher level of need for food banks, rental or mortgage assistance, medical assistance, and we’re starting to see the same pattern emerge this season.”
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Available community resources from FIRC and other organizations include financial counseling and assistance, health insurance enrollment, government benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, programs for women and children and food assistance from local nonprofits and churches.
Irene Moyer, who coordinates the food pantry at Father Dyer Methodist Church, is one of the many volunteers in Summit who helps both seasonal and year-round residents get grocery bags full of food for themselves and their families. She is also seeing last year’s pattern taking shape.
“November is our busiest month, because kids are here to work but they haven’t started yet or gotten paid,” Moyer said. “In December, they don’t get the hours they thought they’d get, or they haven’t gotten paid yet, so we see similarly high numbers.”
Moyer noted that seasonal workers are not the only ones who need assistance from the community, as there are also cyclical residents who need help year-round as work comes and goes. Construction workers, for example, also see their fortunes rise and fall with the weather, and their needs compound those of seasonal workers during slow winters. On Thursday alone, Moyer helped more than 30 people in need get food for the week, and she sees it as a very important role for herself and the church.
“It’s one thing they shouldn’t have to worry about, and it frees up resources for other things they need to take care of like, like paying rent or taking care of their kids.”
Moyer adds that the pantry is well stocked and has the resources to deal with the surge in requests for food assistance, thanks to local business partners and organizations pitching in with food and financial donations. She urges anyone who needs help with their groceries to come down to Father Dyer and pick out whatever they need to get by until the season ramps up.
Jude Mitchell, administrator of the Dillon Community Church, said this season is a bit less chaotic than last year, when the church gave out around 4,000 boxes of food. However, she still anticipates somewhat similar figures this year, as the need for local assistance is fairly consistent in a resort town.
Mitchell also sees it as part of life in a “transitional community.” Many seeking assistance are young, single adults who come to Summit trying to figure out where to go and what to do for the next stage of their lives. But she says they are often ill equipped to deal with the realities of seasonal work.
“I don’t think they know what to expect, so they have unrealistic expectations about how much they’ll get paid and how much it will cost to live here because housing is so limited and expensive.”
Mitchell is more than happy to help these young people who need help, and does her best to provide for them every season. But she also encourages self-sustainability and preparedness. She noted how many long-time Summit residents started off the same way as these young people looking for help, but learned the life lessons needed to help themselves and each other.
“A lot of us came here with not too many bucks in our pockets, but we struggled through and made it. We want people to be self-sustaining and encourage them not to need us, to thrive and do well on their own.”
Mitchell said the Dillon Community Church works with individuals to counsel them on these issues, as well as working with FIRC and other organizations to help these seasonal workers find work and help sustain themselves.
Until these seasonal workers are able to get on their feet, and until there is snow on the mountains to help them get there, Summit’s community groups will do their best to help them. Irene Moyer cherishes the work in Father Dyer’s food pantry, as she feels personally and spiritually enriched being able to help people get through these hard times.
“As I always say, I feel like I get more than I give with this kind of work.”