Food needs on the rise in Colorado, US |

Food needs on the rise in Colorado, US

Elizabeth Aguilera
The Denver Post

For nine years, Ed Michel was a pit boss at a Black Hawk casino. He got paid well, took his family on vacations and owned a house in Indian Hills.

A layoff last year was not in the 43-year-old’s plans. Neither were two subsequent layoffs from jobs as a ranch hand and a Target overnight stocker. And certainly, he never planned to be sitting in a crowded room waiting for emergency food to feed his wife and kids.

“I was making $52,000 a year, and now I’m sitting here looking for bread,” Michel said.

Michel’s and son Tim Michel’s families represent just two of the thousands of families that account for the 30 percent spike nationwide in the number of people accessing food from nonprofit agencies in the past six months due to the struggling economy.

Food Bank of the Rockies, which provides food to pantries that distribute directly to the needy, saw its output in December increase about 40 percent, to more than 2 million pounds of food, over the same month a year earlier, when it distributed 1.4 million pounds of food to agencies, said Kevin Seggelke, food bank president and chief executive.

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“It didn’t look like it let up in January at all. It’s very scary,” he said.

Enter the Denver Foundation, which raised $300,000 in two months for its Hunger Relief Fund.

The money will be awarded to qualifying agencies ” 90 have already submitted proposals ” in $1,000 to $5,000 grants by the middle of this month.

The foundation’s push to raise funds through its Critical Needs Fund campaign was spurred by informal phone surveys in October and November of agencies that showed a 25 percent to 38 percent increase in the need for food.

“They were seeing people who were coming into the food pantries who had been donors before, people who had never had to access those resources before, people who lost their jobs and come upon hard times,” said Oz Spies, program coordinator for the Denver Foundation.

Contributors to the fund include the Colorado Health Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, the Donnell Initiative Fund, Mile High United Way, Tom Gamel and Caring for Colorado.

The grants are especially critical now because the first three months of the year are always lean and demand has remained high, Spies said.

The Jeffco Action Center in Lakewood saw almost 2,000 first-time users of its services in December, said executive director Mag Strittmatter.

In December, the center served 180 households daily, up from 150 the previous December. In January, that number dropped to 140 households a day, still significantly higher than the previous January’s 120 per day.

Michel and 20-year-old son Tim, who lives with his girlfriend and their baby, visited the center Monday after a morning of job hunting. It was Tim Michel’s first visit after having been let go from jobs twice last year.

After losing his job at the casino, the elder Michel sold his home, tried a move to Oregon that proved fruitless and moved his family to an apartment in Lakewood.

“I just hang in there; it’s got to turn,” he said. “If I didn’t have the kids with me I could go live in the woods myself.”

Elizabeth Aguilera: 303-954-1372 or

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