Garfield County nonprofit provides needed holiday Lift
More than 4,000 people in nearly 1,100 families from Parachute to Aspen who may have gone hungry today will instead be enjoying Thanksgiving meals because of community efforts channeled through LIFT-UP.
One thousand and eighty-two families with 4,226 people in them have registered to receive Thanksgiving meals, said Doug Straw, a former LIFT-UP board member and spokesman for the nonprofit organization, which since 1982 has served as a clearinghouse for those trying to help others in need.
Included among the registered families are 334 households in Rifle, 246 in Glenwood Springs, 167 in Carbondale, 117 in Parachute, 105 in New Castle, 51 in Silt, 40 in Basalt and 22 in Aspen. The same families will also be receiving meal assistance at Christmas, he said.
“You wonder if all those people did not get that help, what would they do?” Straw asked, speculating that many might eventually have to leave the area.
What makes the regional effort really work, he stresses, are the volunteers. Through October so far this year, they have donated more than 17,630 hours to the organization.
“You can imagine if LIFT-UP had to pay those people,” Straw said. “It’s really what makes LIFT-UP possible.”
“Everybody who [volunteers] really enjoys it,” he added, saying some have been doing it for 30 years or more.
LIFT-UP is always looking for people to help, even if just for one shift at one of its seven food pantries in Aspen, Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, New Castle, Rifle or Parachute. Anyone interested in helping can start by calling 970-625-4496.
Some of the people registered for holiday meals don’t come to pick them up, and others who aren’t registered show up. LIFT-UP tries to accommodate everyone, but if there are not sufficient meal assistance packages, the food pantries or Extended Table might help.
“Right now, we’re averaging about 500 people at the food pantries per week,” said Straw.
The pantries provide food to qualified individuals up to four times a year with supplies for about four days each time, he explained, and so far this year the amount of food distributed is up about 50 percent, partly because of a policy change, and coincidentally the amount of donated food is up by about the same amount.
When the recession hit in earnest in 2009, demand at the pantries tripled to about 3,000 requests for assistance per month, Straw said.
“It made a big jump, and then it just kind of stayed high” after that at about 2,000 on average per month.
But in October, it spiked to more than 2,400 requests.
“That’s probably the highest it’s been since January ,” he said, adding that there is no obvious reason why.
Often, patrons reflect the diverse make-up of the community, he said, including people who lost high-paying jobs and still have their cars and apartments but no money for food.
People who wish to help in ways other than volunteering can donate non-perishable food items such as canned tuna, spaghetti and sauce, peanut butter and soups to the pantries in their communities. More information about the pantries, including hours, can be found at the LIFT-UP website, http://www.liftup.org.
A seat at the Table
The Extended Table program operates in Rifle and Glenwood Springs and serves meals to all comers regardless of qualifications. In Glenwood, meals are served from 5-6 p.m. Monday through Friday in the basement of the First United Methodist Church. In Rifle, Extended Table offers meals from 5-6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Rifle United Methodist Presbyterian Church.
The Glenwood Extended Table will not serve dinner Thursday and will instead defer to the Eagles Club, which is serving its traditional Thanksgiving meal.
Volunteer groups buy, prepare and serve the food at the Extended Table dinners, so meals don’t cost LIFT-UP very much, though the organization provides condiments and some staples, Straw said.
Combined, Extended Table programs have served almost 14,000 meals through October, with another 1,400 meals expected to be served this month.
“Those numbers have really been steadily increasing,” he said, since the program began 18 years ago.
Again, people from all demographics have been helped by the program.
“It’s across the board,” Straw said.
He said he’s been told by some of the patrons that the availability of the meals helps to reduce the crime rate and is “really making the area a better place” to live.
In the end, though, the organization is really “just a distribution channel for the generosity of the community.”
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