Food pantry need increases in October
by the numbers
995: Total 2008 Vail Valley Salvation Army cases — from food to bus tickets.
6,109: Total cases in 2014.
2,500: Average number of Christmas toys given to children of families in need.
1,200: Average number of Thanksgiving and Christmas food baskets delivered.
To help: Go to www.salvationarmyvail.org. Every dollar raised in the valley stays in the valley.
EAGLE COUNTY — As autumn’s leaves change color and drop, the Vail Valley is a relatively quiet place. The exception to that quiet-time rule is found at the Vail Valley chapter of the Salvation Army.
Because many seasonal employees aren’t working right now, there’s more demand at the Salvation Army’s food pantry in Avon. People who live paycheck to paycheck are more likely to need help with rent, utility or medical bills. And people coming to the valley for a winter’s work are scrambling to find housing.
But housing is a problem the Salvation Army can’t help with.
Tsu Wolin-Brown, the longtime caseworker for the local Salvation Army — and one of just two paid employees — said the need for housing is particularly acute this year.
“I think it’s worse than even before the (2008) recession,” Wolin-Brown said. “When there are places available, they’re $3,200 or $3,800 a month.”
That leaves a number of people living in their cars until they can find housing, Wolin-Brown said. If those cars break, then those people are in a tough place.
Without access to housing — something the nonprofit never has had — and only limited funds, the Salvation Army does what it can to help.
Sometimes, people get help with emergency car repairs. Sometimes help comes in the form of gas money or a bus ticket to a place where there are more resources available.
The Salvation Army always has food available, though. New this year is a greenhouse that will be able to provide all-year access to fresh vegetables and herbs.
The nonprofit relies on its annual Christmas time bell-ringing campaign, donations of food and cash, as well as help from other organizations, including Vail Valley Cares, which annually provides grants to dozens of local nonprofit groups.
But resources are always stretched thin, and the need has only grown.
Dan Smith joined the local Salvation Army’s board of directors in 2004. Then, the group saw about 50 visits to its food pantry every month. This year, Smith said food pantry visits will range from 400 to 500 per month, with more people coming in the spring and fall.
Those numbers are down a bit from the depths of the economic slump that began in 2009. Still, that’s a lot of need.
The food pantry receives a lot of help from the Food Bank of the Rockies, as well as donations from local grocery stores and restaurants. Families can visit the Salvation Army’s food pantry once every two weeks to pick up a basket that includes things like canned vegetables, fruit and soup, peanut butter, pasta and other staples.
Families that qualify can also pick up a basket every month when Food Bank of the Rockies brings a truck to the valley.
“People don’t understand that there are hungry people in this valley, but there are,” Wolin-Brown said.
ALWAYS ROOM FOR MORE HELP
While the Salvation Army has good support systems in place, there’s always room for more help.
“Our needs are money and food and money for food,” Wolin-Brown said.
And while any donations are always welcome — except food that’s past its sell-by date — both Smith and Wolin-Brown said they can stretch a $20 bill farther than if you bought a $20 bag of groceries.
Smith is shopping now for toys for the Salvation Army’s annual holiday program — about 2,500 toys will be given out. Smith said instead of one $20 toy, he can buy three toys for $20 from his sources.
Similarly, Wolin-Brown said she can buy a similar box of breakfast cereal for far less than we can by going to the grocery store.
With only two paid employees, Smith said sometimes the Salvation Army ends up helping people who probably could get along on their own. But that’s what happens to a charity, he said.
“When someone asks me about it, I ask a question before continuing the conversation,” Smith said. “I always ask them to tell me how feeding someone is a bad thing.
“We serve who comes to our door,” Smith added. “We let a higher power sort everything else out.”