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February 11, 2011
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Vail Valley food bank busier than ever

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - One of the busiest banks in the valley is better known for withdrawals, but needs all the deposits it can get.

The Vail Valley Salvation Army's food bank in Edwards has been helping between 400 and 450 families per month since 2009. Families in need have only to ask - and provide a photo ID for bookkeeping purposes - and they'll be sent home with a box of staples including canned and dry food from soup to cereal to pinto beans. Depending on donations, there's also some fresh food available from time to time.

While the Salvation Army has a policy limiting cash assistance to one check per year per family, the food bank feeds anyone who asks - although families are asked to come by just twice a month.

The food bank's open-door policy - keeping with Jesus' teaching to feed the hungry - takes a lot of work, and requires a lot of help.

"We've never had to buy food before, but we have to now," said Dan Smith, chairman of the local chapter's board of directors. "Last year we spent more than $80,000 above donations - generous donations."

The pressure goes up from January to about Thanksgiving. A big part of the charity's funding comes in during the annual bell-ringing drives during the Christmas holiday season. But the need remains - and often grows - in the first months of the new year, Smith said.

Tsu Wolin-Brown, one of two full-time employees at the local Salvation Army, said food comes in constantly from a variety of sources, including Food Bank of the Rockies, local grocery stores and private donations. So far, supply keeps up with demand, but only just.

"It's always close," Smith said. "If we're not running short today, we will be next week."

In addition to the staples the food bank provides, Wolin-Brown said there are other sources for food for those struggling economically.

Food Bank of the Rockies brought up a truck Feb. 10, and more than 200 households received frozen and fresh food from that source. In addition, three local churches hold weekly community dinners, which means people can get a hot meal from those sources.

And the need just keeps growing.

"We have one family who used to bring us donations who just came in needing help," Wolin-Brown said.

"Everybody's just getting hit hard," said Greg Osteen of Vail Valley Cares, who also sits on the Salvation Army's board of directors. "A lot of people have left, and there are others who haven't worked for a year or more."

Osteen said Vail Valley Cares, which provides grants to other local charities through money raised from its two Thrifty Shoppe locations, is giving more than ever. "And we may give more this year than we did in 2010," Osteen said.

That means donations are more important than ever. More important, the charities need to be as efficient as possible in providing help.

"We can't help people if we're out of business," Osteen said.

So what kind of help do the helpers need?

Cash is always good, if in short supply in many local households. But even those unable to make cash donations can help.

"Just pick up a few extra cans of food at the grocery store a couple of times a month," Smith said. "Pick up some tuna, or beans, or a bag of rice.

"We're an emergency service organization, not a sustaining one," Smith added. "But we've found ourselves sustaining a lot of people through the food bank."

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Feb 11, 2011 06:20PM Published Feb 11, 2011 06:16PM Copyright 2011 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.