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Food banks and pantries adapt as needs change amid pandemic
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Colorado Voices

Food Security in Colorado

Food banks and pantries adapt as needs change amid COVID-19 pandemic.

A Perfect Storm for Food Banks and Pantries

Amid the massive changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and increased demand on food banks, there remains tremendous hope in those who serve vulnerable Coloradans.

“The most traumatic thing that is rippling everything out is the increased need,” said Rachel Landis, Director of The Good Food Collective in Durango, and the Farm to Food Pantry Regional Coordinator for Hunger Free Colorado. “The need is very real. In southwest Colorado, our food pantries, as well as our school system and senior center, people are reporting everything from quadrupling to tenfold increases in the numbers (of those needing access to food).”

Landis, who also spearheads the Regional Emergency Food Response Task Force for five southwest counties, explained that there is a strain on the supply chain. Trucks from food banks are arriving less full, and donations from grocery stores are dropping, and with restaurants shut down, that donation stream has been largely reduced.

Food banks from all around Colorado, including Food Bank of the Rockies and Care and Share have community-facing centers, but they also provide food to many local food pantries across the state.

Traffic lined up with police assistance at the Grand Junction Community Food Bank waiting for service to begin.

The pandemic has also forced distribution models for food pantries to change. The Good Food Collection in Durango used to allow customers to come in and shop. That has been replaced by preparing boxes for the customers and leaving them on the curb for pick-up. “I have been in awe of how pantries are responding to increased need,” Landis said. “Food banks, food pantries, and food assistance providers have had to get really creative about how they meet that need.”

Jody Valente, who is the Program Associate at the Western Colorado Community Foundation, based in Grand Junction, stated “we have service from Food Bank of the Rockies… what we are hearing from them is that orders of food have risen quite dramatically, and they’re not able to meet all of the demand from various food pantries. We’re seeing great needs across the arena.”

Many food banks have scaled back their hours of operations for various reasons. Customers should check hours of operation regularly.

One notable reason for operational changes is that many employees and volunteers are part of the COVID-19 vulnerable population themselves, over 60 and retired.

While there is great strain on food banks and pantries, there is still relief for those in need of food. “If you need food, you will get it,” Landis said.

Picking up food from the drive-up and walk-up model at the Grand Junction Community Food Bank.

Finding Food Resources

“Some of the requirements of service (for food pantries) have been lifted. People are understanding that this crisis is hitting our nation all at once, and very few people are immune to it. So, more people are able to go to the food pantries,” Valente said. She explained that Hunger Free Colorado is working on advocacy and food insecurity issues. Because of numerous requests for support, they have ensured that everyone from across the state can view their website and find a local pantry in their area.

Western Colorado 2-1-1, and other 2-1-1 systems across Colorado, are good resources to find food programs and updated information on COVID-19 hours for food pantries, Valente said. She also suggested the Colorado Blueprint to End Hunger.

Funding Food Banks and Pantries

To meet today’s challenges, food banks and pantries have turned from the traditional food-based donation system to one where donation of money is needed to go out on the open market and purchase food, like what a grocery store might do. “We have a lot of frontier and rural communities that are serving incredibly vulnerable populations and they don’t have the capacity or ability to fundraise or write grants,” said Landis. “Look for your local food bank, food pantry or aggregate community food fund.”

The Western Colorado Community Foundation is holding a virtual canned food drive to donate online, or donors can mail a check that goes directly to the food pantries in the seven-county region.

Food banks and pantries share concerns that there is a lot of time spent on sanitizing donated canned goods and there’s no way of knowing how many people have handled them. Pantries are looking for cash, not cans, to get more funding to provide for those in need.

Rachel Landis added, “Regardless of what sector you are in, or where your expertise lies, there is an opportunity to support your community through this. Touch base with volunteer coordinators as they need lots of skill-sets, some of which you can do from home.”

New Collaborations

With massive changes occurring in a short time, food providers are growing collaborations to better feed the communities they serve. “Things have changed. But there are amazing things to highlight,” said Landis.

She described how they think in systems at the Good Food Collective, and how they are seeing this coalescence of all food pantry providers in the area, overlaid with restaurants, farmers, healthcare, all leading to amazing programs. “As people have gotten sicker, we have just started talking as a collective regional food assistance group in putting together a joint delivery system that takes food out to folks that are unable to come in.”

In Grand Junction, restaurants have been hit hard. Several businesses are fundraising to create a fund that would enable nonprofits to use money from that fund to purchase meals from the local restaurants in town. “This is a really great model of businesses, supporting businesses, supporting nonprofits.” Valente said. There is an amazing amount of collaboration occurring between nonprofit organizations. Large community food banks are working with Meals-on-Wheels to get seniors meals, since senior centers closed. Additionally, a partnership between the Kid’s Aid Backpack Program and the Food Bank of the Rockies is working to get food boxes out to more isolated communities, providing an emergency bag of weekend food.

Amid all this change, hope remains. Food pantries, food banks and other food assistance providers will continue to be centers of hope for those most affected and needing help.

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