EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - As volunteers with the Salvation Army and other nonprofit groups get ready for the annual ritual of filling holiday food baskets for families in need, the Salvation Army's main source of charity could use some help.
While the Salvation Army provides different kinds of help to those in need, most people on the group's client list are users of the food bank in Avon. Food aid is available to anyone who requests it, and people can come every two weeks.
Requests for food aid have skyrocketed the past four years. In 2008, there were 357 visits to the pantry. Last year, the number shot past 5,400, and Tsu Wolin Brown, who runs the Salvation Army office in Avon, said she expects pantry visits to pass that mark this year.
"The bottom line is that the need for food is greater than it's ever been," said Dan Smith, a member of the local Salvation Army's board of directors.
Smith said he believes there are several reasons for the years of heavy traffic at the food pantry.
"It used to be the economy would turn down and you'd leave," Smith said. "Now, this is home for a lot of people. And there's really no place to go that's better."
As a result, middle class families that were getting by with three or four jobs between two people may be down to just a single paycheck, or seriously limited income from the jobs they still have. There's little, if any, cash in reserve, and people need some help to get through to the next payday.
That's the case around the northwestern corner of the state. Starlene Collins works at the Grand Junction office of the Food Bank of the Rockies, which helps stock food pantries across the region. Once a month that group brings a truckload of food to specific locations - including Edwards. The group just last week took a truck to the Craig area, and Collins said the food was gone in about an hour.
To help keep food in the pantries takes a lot of time, effort, and cash. The Avon Salvation Army depends on Food Bank of the Rockies, as well as donations from local grocery stores. Wolin Brown said the Avon City Market store is particularly helpful with donations of fresh food and bread.
There's also a local program called "Stock the Pantry" that asks grocery shoppers to pick up an extra item or two to help fill the pantries.
Even with the donated items, the Salvation Army still spends about $100,000 per year to buy food, about a quarter of its annual budget. Besides stocking the pantry shelves, that money also purchases the holiday food baskets. The rest of Salvation Army's annual budget goes toward financial aid of various types - everything from help with rent or medicine to emergency auto repairs - with one cash donation per person, per year - and pays just two full-time people.
With all that help, it's still a struggle to keep the pantry's shelves stocked, especially in the spring and fall.
"There are a lot of people with seasonal jobs, and this is a hard time of year for them, until the mountain opens," Wolin Brown said.
With the Salvation Army on something of a constant edge keeping its pantry shelves stocked, Wolin Brown said any donations - from a few cans or boxes to a few dollars to big checks with lots of zeroes - are gratefully accepted.
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