Eagle Methodist food pantry for the needy gives back by letting go

Recognizing that The Community Market is a better option, Methodist church food pantry closes its doors

The small pantry space at the Eagle United Methodist Church made a big impact for locals and transients who needed help to put food on their tables.
Daily file photo

EAGLE — For 40 years, Eagle’s Community Helpline has been an example of the axiom that giving begins at home.

And now the organization, formed by the Eagle United Methodist Church in 1979, is making its next move by stepping back. The same spirit that prompted the congregation to reach out to the community has now convinced them to turn over their efforts to an organization better placed to provide assistance.

“It is all for the good, and we realize it,” said Cynthia Sibley of the Eagle Methodist congregation. “To tell the truth, it feels a bit sad, but we are certain this is the right step in providing a better service for people in need.”

The better service she referred to is The Community Market, a partnership of Eagle Valley Community Foundation, Food Bank of the Rockies, Eagle County, Vail Resorts, a number of community nonprofit groups and other entities that provide local food assistance.

The market program operates a central hub warehouse at 760 Lindbergh Drive in Gypsum and also brings food directly to communities across the Eagle River Valley in the form of pop-up markets. These markets feature a variety of fresh produce, dairy products and other perishables as well as shelf-stable grocery items. 

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“We believe that having access to good quality, nutritious food is a right, not a privilege,” notes the organization’s website.

“The emergence of The Community Market has changed the way in which food is made available to the community,” Sibley said. “This organization, funded in great part by the CEO of Vail Resorts, has brought a new well-maintained facility into the area that can handle a large volume of food storage and distribution. A new modern website, a number of full- and part-time employees and the draw of a new population of volunteers has resulted in the obsolescence of our small operation.”

‘Food ministry’

As she prepared the closure announcement for the Community Helpline food pantry, Sibley compiled a history of the church’s “food ministry.”

In 1979, the Rev. Steve Goodier was the Methodist pastor in Eagle, and there wasn’t a single food pantry in operation between Denver and Glenwood Springs. The church decided to address the need, and with the help of stalwart Methodists Don and Donna Gress, the Community Helpline was born.

“Community Helpline was designed to provide support for locals and transients alike,” Sibley said. “A phone number — 328-HELP — was answered during the day by Steve and Bev Goodier and at night by Don and Donna Gress. Help was available 24 hours a day. It started with a donation of $25.”

By calling the number transients could get a meal, a room, gas money, and/or a bus ticket to help them along their way. Locals could visit the food pantry to collect non-perishable items. Word of the church operation soon spread through the valley.

“The police and sheriff departments referred people in need,” Sibley said. “Soon after starting, the helpline began to work with the Salvation Army and was able to provide food, short-term lodging and funds to locals.”

During its four decades of operation, Community Helpline helped thousands of people weather a tough chapter of their lives. Gress will always remember helping out one particular family. He met up with them at Loaf ‘N Jug in Eagle, where he provided gas for their vehicle and food for the children. He handed out oranges to the youngsters, and he will never forget how excited the kids were to receive that special treat.

“For many years, our church was a faithful presence in the community, collecting and distributing food for families in need,” Sibley said. “It was a responsibility that we took seriously and one in which we committed our time, money, energy and many volunteer hours.”

The volunteers who kept Community Helpline going are too numerous to name, but the list includes Laureen Knupp, Virginia Rose, Pat McCollum, Sue Wilmore, Mary Hoza, Helen Newquist, Lois and Dean Walker, Juanita Eaton, Marvin Hornbaker, Jon Asper, Versiellen Driver, Louise Carter, Linda Wasser, Eleno Velez and Kelly Liken. Liken, in particular, has been an active volunteer with The Community Market as the church food pantry operation transfers over to the larger organization.

“It is the mission of the Eagle Valley Community Foundation to help our valley be a vibrant, strong community and a great place to live,” Liken said. To achieve that goal, the organization has partnered with many community groups, she noted.

“People are doing amazing work here in the valley,” she said. “We saw this as a perfect example of how to forge one of those partnerships. We really view this as a partnership rather than a takeover.”

Simple Supper

While the Eagle Community United Methodist Church has turned over its food pantry responsibility, it will maintain a strong partnership with The Community Market and continue its Simple Supper program.

For the past 10 years, every Monday at 6 p.m. everyone is welcome to share a meal at the Eagle church. Prior to the supper program, The Community Market’s mobile food pantry is open at the site, from 4 to 6 p.m.

“Simple Supper is a community fellowship, and it isn’t just for the needy,” Sibley said. Local sports teams, churches and community groups prepare and serve the food and anyone who wants to come is welcome to share the meal.

“We haven’t missed a single Monday night in 10 years,” Sibley said. “As we close a chapter on our ministry and embrace a new way to see our community provided for while making our space available for The Community Market, we celebrate the years of commitment and many faithful friends we have made along the way.”

“The congregation is passionate about its hunger ministry,” Liken said. “I just hope, that as a good partner, we can honor that passion and that the congregation of the Methodist church feels that we have honored it.”

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