Food insecurity in Eagle County stems from several sources |

Food insecurity in Eagle County stems from several sources

Lack of healthy food access threatens the well-being of many locals

The Eagle Valley Community Market food bank opened in late 2018 and saw demand grow 400% in 2020. The Community Market has locations in Edwards and Gypsum, and sets up a network of five to seven mobile market locations each week.
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Just over 6% of Eagle County residents face food insecurity, according to Feeding America, a nationwide food bank nonprofit. While this number is better than the state rate of nearly 10% and the national 11.5%, organizations working to combat food insecurity locally strive toward a future where no community member is left without a consistent supply of nutritious food.

Food insecurity is defined by the Department of Agriculture as the lack of access to food that helps one lead an active, healthy life, at a given time. So, even if someone is eating three meals a day, they may not be experiencing food security. The diet of a person without food security could include a lot of fast food, processed food or other convenient but non-nutritious options. At the same time, someone who can only access one healthy meal a day and doesn’t eat anything else may also be facing food insecurity. 

Poverty, often associated with hunger, is a substantial factor in food insecurity. Additionally, households with children are more likely to experience food insecurity than other households. However, there are a myriad of other factors that onset food insecurity. Often, food insecurity is a struggle left unnoticed, though if ongoing, those facing food insecurity may have even more to grapple with. 

For The Community Market, creating access to nutritious food for all community members is what it’s all about, all year round.
The Community Market/Courtesy Photo

Children experiencing food insecurity are also more likely to get lower grades in school and face behavioral difficulties at a higher rate than households with food security. Additionally, later on in their adolescence, children from households without food security are more likely to develop mental health difficulties such as anxiety, depression and ideation of suicide. In terms of physical health, those growing up in a home without food security also experience a higher rate of childhood anemiaasthma and tooth decay

Adults without food security also see various health struggles. Similar to children, adults can experience higher rates of oral decaymental health difficultiesdiabeteschronic illness and are at higher nutritional risk than those who have food security. 

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Jenny Lowe, Vail Valley Salvation Army food pantry director, said that within the Eagle County community, the largest struggle is with malnutrition, not starvation. She said that with lack of education on healthy eating practices and lack of time to prepare nutritious meals, community members slip into food insecurity. 

“There are a lot of single mothers,” Lowe said. “They don’t have the time and maybe they’re working two or three jobs. They may not have the time to make healthy meals for their children.”

The Vail Valley Salvation Army and other local resources like The Community Markets provide fresh, nutritious food to community members at no cost. With locations for locals and visitors to obtain healthy food all throughout the valley, many individuals are supported enough to establish food security. 

In December 2021, The Community Market opened a new grocery location in Edwards to meet growing demand due to COVID-19. The store is located within the new Vail Health Community Health Campus.
The Community Market/Courtesy Photo

However, Lowe explained that there is only so much that resources like the Salvation Army can help with. In some ways, she explained, the food-insecurity problem is unsolvable with the help of food assistance programs alone. 

For example, the shortage of affordable housing throughout the valley makes a substantial impact on food security in many ways. 

“Sometimes people rent a room, but they can’t use the kitchen,” Lowe said. “It could be limitations like people who live in studios with no oven, just a microwave. There are all sorts of barriers, and just having the money to buy food.”

That isn’t to say lack of affordable housing doesn’t make things more difficult regarding food security. Lowe said that often, community members are forced to make choices with how to spend their limited budget. Rent expenses and inflation tighten one’s wallet and sometimes, food isn’t budgeted for at all. 

“People choose between gasoline and diapers and healthy food,” Lowe said. “Pay rent and utilities or buy fish and steaks.”

While food accessibility resources don’t necessarily have the ability to make the housing market better or do away with inflation, they do work to ease the burden of community members who struggle to obtain healthy food. 

Charitable donations from community members help keep food stocked for those struggling to “shop.” However, these options aren’t always what’s best for everyone, Lowe said. If someone does not have access to certain appliances like a fridge or stove, what they are able to prepare is limited. If someone does not have time to prepare meals, fresh ingredients may not be a practical option for them. 

Additionally, food donated to local food recourses may not always be options those struggling are comfortable choosing from. Lowe explained that residents from Columbia, Venezuela, Peru, Honduras and other Hispanic countries might not be used to or like the American cuisine found in nearby food banks. 

“There’s a cultural barrier with the food,” Lowe said. “A lot of Hispanics don’t really like peanut butter sandwiches or mac and cheese or other fast-prepared food here.” 

The Salvation Army and The Community Market joined forces in 2021 for a monumental Thanksgiving meal delivery.
Courtesy photo

Another way food resources may not be able to help combat food insecurity locally is with children in school. Lowe explained that with frequent vacations and breaks from school and parents working, students may not have access to nutritious meals throughout the day. Sometimes, Lowe explained that students may not even be eating at school at all. 

“I know the schools sometimes have a big problem in the cafeterias,” Lowe said. “If kids didn’t apply or they didn’t qualify for the free meals, they may not have lunch every day.”

If community members want to help food banks support those facing food insecurity in the ways they can, Lowe explained that donating food, money and even grocery store gift cards can make a difference in getting people consistent access to nutritious food.  

Participating in food drives and food donation events are also helpful, Lowe said. Resources like the Salvation Army collect more food at particular times of the year, anticipating an influx in community demand. 

Now, the Salvation Army is collecting donations for the second batch of holiday food box deliveries to go to households in need. In partnership with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, non-perishables, fresh meat and vegetables and more get delivered before Thanksgiving and Christmas, stocking families’ pantries for a festive and food-secure holiday. 

To donate or to seek support from food resources locally, people can visit the Vail Valley Salvation Army in Avon or the Edwards or Gypsum Community Market. More food assistance can be sought through the county’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

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