Extended Table goes al fresco
COVID-19 nearly put a fork in LIFT-UP’s Extended Table meal program.
But the organization and its volunteers cooked up a way to continue serving evening meals to whoever needs one.
With the statewide lockdown in March, Extended Table was no longer able to offer meals in the kitchen of the First United Methodist Church at Ninth and Cooper in Glenwood.
LIFT-UP decided to continue the program outdoors, first in the alley behind the church, later moving to the front.
“It was important for LIFT-UP to keep the program going and just pivot to the new rules of COVID to allow the program to be sustainable through the pandemic. Then our volunteers jumped right on board and were flexible right away and said, ‘Yes, we’re all for doing it,’” LIFT-UP executive director Angela Mills said.
The move outdoors was the only big change as it’s still the volunteers that make it happen.
“The volunteer groups purchase and prep and serve the food themselves,” Mills said.
The brown bag nature of the meals requires some imagination to avoid redundancy.
“We’ve got to be more creative because when we were inside we could have warm meals for them; we did a lot of meals in crockpots. Now we’re coming up with egg salad, tuna salad, taco salad, and people are doing wraps. Some people actually took a little grill and grilled up some burgers and hot dogs for them. It’s just trying to think of different ways so they don’t get burned out on sandwiches,” volunteer Jamie Darien of Glenwood Springs said.
Since the pandemic the turnout has been down a little bit.
“When we were inside we would have anywhere from 35-50 or 60 people showing up depending on weather, depending on the month, and now it’s usually about 25-30 people,” Darien said.
Mills confirmed that the number of meals officially served has been lower during the coronavirus outbreak.
There were 658 meals served in January and 664 in February. That number dropped by an average of about 20% over the next four months, with about 550 meals served each in March, April and June with May dipping to 437, she said.
One possible explanation for declining numbers is some people staying away because of COVID-19.
“We have some local folks sometimes that go in that are single, and they just go in for social hour,” said Renee Horton, LIFT-UP office manager.
“It’s the seniors that come in for the social aspect, and now the seniors are taking care of themselves and staying home,” Mills said.
Darien said among those that show up there is still socializing.
“A lot of them hang out in front of the church and eat and socialize. That’s what so much of Extended Table is — a chance to have a community,” she said.
The number of meals served in Rifle has seen little change between February and May, with a high of 202 in February and a low of 185 in April.
Darien said that the brown bag format has some advantages for recipients.
“It really helps them that a lot of the food they’re getting now they can take with them to their camp. There’s a lot of snacks: beef jerky, chips, apple sauce, a lot of protein bars, a lot of granola bars, things they can stuff into their packs or pockets and take with them,” Darien said.
Most of the shifts are filled with church groups. Darien said that some volunteers have decided not to participate during the pandemic, but others have filled in.
“There have been a lot of empty nights because people of course are fearful of being there, but other people have stepped right in and picked those nights up,” she said.
All in all she finds it a satisfying experience.
“Everybody’s there to help each other whether they have a home or not. I think that really says a lot,” Darien said.
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