Businesses help replenish food pantries | VailDaily.com

Businesses help replenish food pantries

EAGLE COUNTY — Need knows no season, but the needs of many Vail Valley families grow during the winter season, especially around the Christmas holidays.

The local branch of the Salvation Army serves thousands of people per year — on average, the food pantry serves 500 households per month. During Thanksgiving, the nonprofit gives out roughly 600 food baskets. This year, food baskets have been replaced with grocery store vouchers because the emergency-services crews who usually deliver baskets are often called out on cold, snowy nights.

Outside of the holiday seasons, the pantry is often close to bare. But regular food drives — and the generosity of local grocery stores — helps keep the shelves stocked, and a bit of variety in what's available.

For the past couple of years, the valley's major grocery stores — City Market, Walmart and Safeway — have donated meat, dairy and produce items to the pantry as it nears its sell-by date.

“We want to help families that might not be able to afford this food.”Sam PothierAvon Walmart general manager

Recommended Stories For You

Sometimes, if Salvation Army volunteers aren't available, then the stores will send their own trucks over to the food pantry. Getting food to those who need it is the important thing.

"We want to help families that might not be able to afford this food," Avon Walmart store general manager Sam Pothier said.

Fill the van

That giving, along with a seasonal community garden, helps food pantry users get more than canned foods in their diets. But canned food is essential, and that's where local businesses help the most.

Colorado Mountain Express, along with local emergency-service agencies, held its annual Fill the Van food drive this fall, stationing transportation company vans outside local grocery stores.

Local Salvation Army director Tsu Wolin Brown said that effort brought "a ton" of food to the pantry. In reality, many tons were donated.

"I know just the final fourth of it was six full truckloads — big pickups," Wolin Brown said.

"The vans were unbelievable," she added. "They went to schools, then to the stores."

Other donations, events

Welcoming Fill the Van, along with Salvation Army bell-ringers and other nonprofit groups, is a big part of life at those grocery stores.

Pothier said his store has a calendar for signups by nonprofit groups. If there's an open date, a nonprofit group can set up for a day — or in the case of bell-ringers, a season.

Groups have to be nonprofits, Pothier said. Voter registration drives have to be non-partisan, and religious groups can only hand out information, they can't actively solicit.

Walmart also participates in local Shop With a Cop events, in which local police officers and emergency responders help local kids shop for family members.

"It's so much fun watching the kids with the police and fire departments," Pothier said. "It's pretty phenomenal to see their faces."

'Opportunity'

At Avon's City Market, store manager Jeff Gentilini said the people who set up outside the front doors or in the lobby are often familiar faces.

"A lot of people who want to do these things are our own customers," Gentilini said. "We often know each other."

In the case of setting up outside stores, kids are the biggest participants, from local schools to scouts to sports teams.

It's corporate policy to participate in community life, but Gentilini and Pothier enjoy it.

"This is what I want to do," Pothier said. "I enjoy doing it and I'm glad I have the opportunity."

Gentilini echoed that sentiment.

Wolin Brown said that's the case with other store managers up and down the valley.

"They all do us all kinds of favors," she said.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com and @scottnmiller.

How to help

The local Salvation Army’s holiday bell-ringing campaign is the group’s biggest fund-raiser of the year, and volunteers are needed. To learn more, go to the group’s website, http://salvationarmyvail.org/volunteer-opportunites/.