Even Amid Economic Recovery, Need at Food Bank for Larimer County Not Declining
Nationally, 1 in 6 people are food insecure – meaning they may not know where their next meal is coming from, and the numbers are similar in Colorado. Even in the midst of an economic recovery – the need for food assistance continues to grow at one Northern Colorado food bank.
The Face of Hunger
The face of hunger may surprise some people. It’s not confined to a small pocket of society – or limited to just the homeless and poverty-stricken.
It’s working professionals, those who’ve recently lost their jobs, parents and very often, children and grandparents. Nearly 50% of food bank clients in Larimer County are under the age of 18 or senior citizens.
“Most of my money goes for utilities and rent and stuff like that – because social security hasn’t given a raise for about 3 years now, and they won’t give one this year either,” says senior Paul East.
He has been using the Food Bank for several years. If it wasn’t for the service, he says he’d have no way to consistently get something to eat. It’s an all too familiar story for Executive Director Amy Pezzani.
“These are folks whose situation isn’t going to improve, and we expect that as more baby boomers retire we’re going to see more of that demographic needing food assistance,” she says.
The Food Bank
The Food Bank for Larimer County operates 3 programs. First, there’s Food Link, which provides food to non-profit agencies such as Catholic Charities of Northern Colorado. Kid’s Cafe is an after school and summer meal program for low-income kids, and there’s Food Share. The latter is what comes to mind when most people think about a food bank.
“In a typical day we sign up anywhere from 10 to 50 new households that have never been here before, and in a typical day we will see at least 600 to 700 people come through the door,” says Pezzani.
And on a typical day, a line spilling out the door continues for hours. Standing in line this week was Mark Beardsley - a young Ft. Collins man who is unemployed and trying to keep his head above water…
“It’s really helpful because we have a lot of kids at home who need food and we don’t have a lot of money to buy food and the food pantry is the alternative to starving,” he says.
Inside the Food Pantry, William Overmann is sifting through red peppers, to go along with the pita bread and other produce he’s picked out.
“I’ve been living in Fort Collins for a number of years and been living off minimum wage, and I can say it’s invaluable when you can barely afford to scrape together rent money every month, let alone money for food,” he says.
Amy Pezzani says the numbers of clients have steadily increased since the recession began. Before September 2008, she says there was a 7% to 10% year to year growth in clients, but the need climbed nearly 50% in the months following.
“We’ve also seen the number of times that a client comes for food increase. In 2008, on average our clients used us two times each month, now our clients use us three times each month,” she adds.
Keeping Up with Demand
While many non-profits struggled to keep up with the increased need, Pezzani says the food bank actually fared pretty well and has been able to keep up with demand so far, thanks in large part to the community.
“We’re still highly dependent on donated food. Last year we distributed nearly 8 million pounds of food. Over 80% of that food would have been in area or national landfills if it weren’t for us recovering and distributing it.”
But, while the U.S. is technically in recovery mode, Pezzani says continuing economic uncertainty means there’s no end to ongoing need.
That’s why the Food Bank for Larimer County is opening a new Food Share facility next week. Through that, an additional 10,000 pounds of food will be distributed each month. But the growing need for food assistance isn’t limited to Larimer County. The situation is similar at the Weld Food Bank and others across the state and nation.