Open pantry, open hearts in Eagle County | VailDaily.com
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Open pantry, open hearts in Eagle County

Kathy Heicher
kheicher@eaglevalleyenterprise.com
Eagle County, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Last year, when the congregation of the United Methodist Church of Eagle, Colorado conducted a food drive, the canned and boxed goods collected were shipped to an urban ministry project in the Denver area.

This year, with the economic downturn, the need for food supplies is right here in the valley.

“We’re seeing people from all walks of life right now. Some of them probably never thought they would see themselves at a food pantry,” says Missy Ford, of Eagle, the volunteer coordinator for program.

A group of volunteers makes sure the shelves are stocked, and that the pantry is staffed during operating hours.

Food pantry clients include laid-off construction workers, foreign visitors with work visas whose usual ski resort jobs never materialized this winter, and members of the Hispanic community. Some of who seek help are currently employed, but are struggling to make financial ends meet. The extra groceries help.

The food pantry is operated in conjunction with the local Salvation Army.

In February alone, 30 food baskets were distributed out of Eagle, reports the Salvation Army’s Tsu Wolin Brown. The Salvation Army also stocks food pantries at its offices in Edwards and the Vail Chapel. Brown said in 2007 the food pantries in the valley recorded 249 visits. In 2008, that number was more than 400.

“Use of the food bank has increased significantly over the last three months,” says Pastor Sid Spain, of the Methodist Church.

In Eagle, the church congregation works closely with the Salvation Army to keep the pantry in the basement stocked. Congregation members, and local businesses such as City Market, Columbine Market, and Costco donate goods.

When the pantry workers fill a food box, they work off a list of food that includes enough staples to feed a family of four nutritious meals for a week. The pantry also has a freezer for meats and the church is looking for a second freezer.

Although the food pantry volunteers collect some basic information from clients for Salvation Army records.

“We don’t ask for an ID, or proof of residency. We just kind of take them at their word,” says Ford.

Congregation member Cynthia Sibley, of Eagle, says the Methodist Church kicked up its food drive program last year after the Denver Urban Ministries sent out an e-mail challenging Colorado congregations to a food drive race during the month of April. At the time, the local food bank wasn’t all that much in demand, and there was an excess of canned goods.

The Eagle congregation took up that challenge, with spirit.

“Christian competitiveness can be good,” says Sibley, with a laugh.

Church members also have solicited donations from local stores. Everyone from little kids to senior citizens got in the act, collecting the food items specified.

When the drive was over, the little congregation ” about 85 members at the time ” had collected close to 35 pounds of food for each congregation member. They won the food drive, beating out Denver metro-area churches. The reward was an ice cream social, and an article in an online urban ministries magazine.

Sibley says projects such as the food drive help to bring the congregation together.

“We’re excited about what we can do for the community when we look outside of our own little personal needs. That really is our mission,” she adds.

This year, the congregation is focusing on keeping the local pantry stocked.

“People are real concerned about each other,” says Spain. He says people get satisfaction out of doing something tangible, like collecting a load of peanut butter and pasta sauce.

“We have had some very generous contributors,” he says.

“In general, our community is just an amazing bunch of people who can rally around needs,” Sibley adds. “I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”


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