RIFLE, Colorado - LIFT-UP just finished its 30th year of serving the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys. After a busy holiday season, the staff is taking a well-deserved break for the last two weeks of 2012.
Director Mike Powell says it's been a busy year, serving 40,000 people from Parachute to Aspen by the end of November. When the final 2012 numbers are tallied, he expects they'll come in a wee bit less than in years past.
"In 2009, we were up 300 percent," he explained. "In 2010, we were up 10 percent and last year we were up between 5 and 10 percent." Does this year's decrease in services mean the need for assistance has dropped? No, said Powell. The need for services is holding steady at the higher level.
Powell said he'd like to think the community is "over the hump" and perhaps the recession is lifting. But other agencies, such as the Garfield County Department of Human Services, are not seeing a decline in services.
With a budget of just over $2 million, LIFT-UP provides food and prescription medicine assistance throughout the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys. Seven offices and food pantries and two thrift stores have sprung up from Aspen to Parachute since the organization opened its doors in 1982.
About $700,000 comes from cash donations. The rest is in-kind.
"We've clocked about 300,000 volunteer hours this year," said Powell. And LIFT-UP gave away 47,147 bags of food as of November.
"LIFT-UP is not so rinky-dink as it used to be," Powell remarked.
The Extended Table Soup Kitchen hosted at the First United Methodist Church in Glenwood Springs has been serving dinner five nights a week for 17 years. Powell said it's the epitome of volunteerism.
"There is very little expense for LIFT-UP," he explained. "The teams buy the food, cook it, serve it and clean up."
Different local groups, such as the Kiwanis Club, Valley View Hospital and New Creation Church, are in charge of the same night every month. That's why volunteers can't just call LIFT-UP when they feel like helping out and expect to serve a meal.
"It's not the kind of place you can drop in and volunteer," Powell said. "I can look at my calendar and tell you who is going to serve the meal on Nov. 13, 2013," he said with a chuckle.
The waiting list for Extended Table volunteer groups moves slowly. Each team, he said, "is responsible for that day every month in perpetuity until they drop out."
Powell discourages donations of food to the Extended Table.
"Folks will call us up and say, 'Hey we've got a bunch of food left over from a party,' and ask if we can use it," he said. "I know they mean well, but we can't." Each group has every meal all planned out, he explained, and there is no place to store extra food.
Now, there's an Extended Table in Rifle every Tuesday evening at the Rifle United Methodist-Presbyterian Church, thanks to retired Rifle Middle School teacher Sandy Vaccaro. His interest in helping the hungry and the homeless goes back decades. He took his daughters to volunteer at Glenwood's Extended Table in the mid-1990s.
"We wanted them to see there was a need right here in our valley," he recalled. "So, we took them there to serve."
He and others decided last summer that it was time for a soup kitchen in Rifle and began serving meals in October.
"We have six teams right now and three new ones," Vaccaro said. "We hope to expand it to two nights a week in January."
Glenwood's Extended Table serves about 60 people every night. On some nights, the Rifle soup kitchen serves a dozen people but Vaccaro expects that to increase once word gets out.
"Regardless of what the economy is, there will always be people who are not making it," said Powell.
With Christmas Day falling on a Tuesday this year, dinner will be served in both locations from 5-6 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 25.
Expect ham, casseroles and desserts on Christmas Day in Rifle and a great meal served by the Turner family in Glenwood Springs.
Registration for holiday food baskets ended in early November.
"Everybody who's going to get something already knows," said Powell. "They will be notified of the distribution dates and places."