Eagle River Valley Food Bank is making sure no Vail Valley residents go hungry | VailDaily.com

Eagle River Valley Food Bank is making sure no Vail Valley residents go hungry

Volunteers drop some squash in the grocery bags at the Eagle River Valley Food Bank warehouse. According to the food bank, about 525 families in the community are fed through the program each month.
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Want to help?

The Eagle River Valley Food Bank welcomes community support.

Sign up to volunteer at https://ourcommunityfoundation.org/get-involved/or contact Kelli Duncan at kelli@ourcommunityfoundation.org.

Make an online donation at ourcommunityfoundation.org/donate/.

Like the program on Facebook@ourcommunityfoundation.

Host a food drive in your community.

EAGLE COUNTY — This is a week when we all spend a lot of time, energy and money on food.

We enjoy happy visions of perfectly browned turkeys and discussions of who is bringing what side dish to Thanksgiving dinner. Many of us will have volunteered time to pack food baskets that have been delivered to less fortunate members of our community, so we can feast and hope that no one is going hungry this holiday.

But this valley’s real food insecurity issues can’t be solved with a single holiday basket delivery or even by the various government, religious and private programs available.

Many local service industry workers go home to empty refrigerators most nights because by the time they have paid for housing and its associated costs and then forked over money for other household necessities, the only place left to trim back spending is at the grocery store. These folks don’t qualify for government food programs and they are often reluctant to ask for help from service groups.

But the Eagle River Valley Food Bank helps address those needs. What’s more, the operation also gives the people it benefits a chance to help the larger valley community.

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A project of Our Community Foundation, the food bank distributes approximately 16,000 pounds of nutritious food at various convenient community locations from Dotsero to Red Cliff. The bank operates as a mobile market that gives families more autonomy and choice in the food they receive.

“We believe that everyone should have access to healthy, good quality food,” said Susie Davis, of Our Community Foundation.

There are no qualifications required to shop at the food bank mobile markets. Organizers just ask participants for their names, phone numbers and the number of people in the household. They then use that information to inform food bank users about future market events that may fit their needs.

While the markets visit several low income neighborhoods in the valley on a rotating schedule, everyone is welcome to grab a bag of free food.

“Those aren’t the only neighborhoods that need help in the valley,” Davis said.

According to food bank statistics, the program feeds an average for 525 families in the community every month.

Fresh help

Approximately 30 percent of the food bank distributions are fresh produce — donated by local grocery retailers. When Our Community Foundation surveyed locals about their food needs, respondents identified fresh produce as a top need.

But an unexpected thing happened when the Eagle River Valley Food Bank began operations a year ago. While the program’s mission is to get healthy food to locals who need it, an important side benefit emerged. By rescuing and redistributing food from grocery stores that would have otherwise been thrown away, the program manages to keep more than 5,000 pounds of food materials out of the landfill every month.

The sustainability aspect of the food bank is a great allure for people who may otherwise be reluctant to participate.

“I was really surprised to learn how big the sustainability aspect would be,” Davis said. “Its a really cool sustainability program that everyone can participate in.”

Additionally, the program has reached out to local farmers, who donate or sell produce that may not make the visual cut for market sales. For example, the food bank made a deal with one Western Slope grower for apples that were too small to sell to a retailer. While the apples lack bulk, they don’t lack flavor.

“They are so tasty, I can promise you,” Davis said.

Welcome to the valley

Resort area economics are tough. Resort areas typically have high housing costs and the need for lots of service-industry workers. But surviving in a resort area when earning a service industry wage is a dicey deal.

Ultimately, the Eagle River Valley Food Bank wants to improve the quality of life for residents by taking away the stress of not knowing if there will be anything to eat at home tomorrow.

“What we are really doing is empowering people and letting them know there is a community of support here,” Davis said.

Sometimes that means offering a bag full of groceries to folks who just forked over first and last months’ rent and a sizeable security deposit.

Vail Resorts has been an enthusiastic supporter of the Eagle River Valley Food Bank. The program delivers 750 bags of groceries to locations at Vail and Beaver Creek and workers are invited to bring them home.

“Sometimes it’s just to help people get their feet on the ground until their first paycheck arrives,” Davis said.

Other times, the program gives people help when an unexpected expense pops up.

“If we can help with your groceries so you can buy snow tires, that’s great,” Davis said. “We always try to point out that this food is for everybody.”

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