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Relief groups see increased need in 2010

Photo courtesy Doug Straw/LIFT-UPVolunteers Juan Guerrero, left, and Jen Brennan sort potatoes for the Thanksgiving distribution of LIFT-UP food baskets in Carbondale last Saturday.
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Although requests to local poverty relief agency LIFT-UP for Thanksgiving holiday food baskets were down this year, it and other assistance organizations have continued to see an overall increase in need for its services this past year.

“Our numbers for the year are up by about 10 percent over last year,” LIFT-UP Executive Director Mike Powell said.

That, after a record 300 percent increase in requests for food and other assistance provided by the nonprofit relief agency from 2008 to 2009.



“What we’re seeing is another new group of people, who’ve maybe hung on for a while but now are in need of some help,” Powell said. “A lot of people were caught completely off guard, and never knew what it was like to be unemployed, or even underemployed.”

LIFT-UP registered 1,153 families throughout Garfield and Pitkin counties this holiday season to receive holiday meal boxes for Thanksgiving and again for the December holidays, according to LIFT-UP Office Manager Kim Loving. That’s actually down some from last year, when the agency had 1,365 requests for Thanksgiving food boxes, she said.



“We always get some late requests for the second distribution,” she said. “Even if we get more requests, we never let anyone go without. We tell them to come to our food pantries.”

Food boxes distributed this past week were expected to feed approximately 5,000 people on Thanksgiving Day, according to a LIFT-UP official.

Volunteers from each of the communities distributed boxes to 19 families in Aspen, 276 families in Carbondale, 280 families in Glenwood Springs, 115 families in New Castle, 42 families in Silt, 340 families in Rifle, and 81 families in Parachute, and were filled with fixings for the holiday meal, along with a meat voucher to purchase a turkey or ham at a local City Market or Clark’s Market.

LIFT-UP’s annual holiday meal distribution is conducted over and above the regular assistance provided at the agency’s six area food pantries. The pantries are currently serving between 500 and 600 families per week, while the Extended Table Soup Kitchen in Glenwood Springs, also sponsored by LIFT-UP, is serving more than 1,100 meals per month.

Other relief agencies are also reporting a continued increase in requests for assistance this year, after a big spike in numbers the past two years.

“We really haven’t seen any decrease in need,” Catholic Charities Regional Director Marian McDonough said.

Catholic Charities has assisted 870 households this past year, up slightly from 860 families assisted the previous year, she said. That equates to about 2,500 individuals served, she said.

Catholic Charities provides a range of services, including helping people with rental assistance, as well as medical and dental bills. It also works closely with the Salvation Army to provide food vouchers.

“We’re seeing more and more people who we’ve never seen before,” McDonough said. “We’re getting people who have never had to ask for assistance before. Some of them had savings, but that’s gone, and unemployment is running out, so now they’re needing assistance.”

Medical and dental requests in particular are up, she said.

“We are working with other agencies and with public health to do more preventative health so that people are not coming in with these huge bills.”

Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army, LIFT-UP and the homeless relief agency Feed My Sheep all operate out of the same building in downtown Glenwood Springs.

“We all work together to make sure people are housed and fed,” McDonough said.

The Salvation Army in Garfield County has seen an increase in clients over the last three years from 652 in 2007 to 1,256 as of the end of the fiscal year in September, said Amy Barr, business manager for the local agency.

This year’s number is up from 1,053 clients served in 2009, she said.

“It’s what they’ve kept saying, is that the down economy was going to hit us here locally a lot later,” Barr said.

“We’re noticing a lot more single women with kids, but also a lot of men,” she said. “There are a lot of families where the woman may have a job, but the man doesn’t, usually because he’s been in construction work.”

Salvation Army’s services are mostly focused on homelessness prevention by offering rent and utility assistance, as well as food vouchers and transportation assistance, including RFTA bus passes for people to get to job interviews or to and from work for a period of time once they land a job.

“We also buy Greyhound tickets for people who are willing to relocate, as long as they have a family member or someone on the other end to take them in,” Barr said.

“The one silver lining we’re seeing is that people want to work, there just aren’t jobs,” she said.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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