LiftUp of Routt County could use a boost this holiday season |

LiftUp of Routt County could use a boost this holiday season

Volunteer Kerry Contarino places items on the shelves at LiftUp Food Bank. The local nonprofit that helps residents stave off food insecurity is facing high prices and fewer donations this holiday season.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

During a year that‘s challenged food pantries nationwide, including LiftUp of Routt County, the high cost of food looks like it will carry into the holiday season.

“Our budget for food for this year was $84,000,” LiftUp Executive Director Sue Fegelein said. “And to date, we’ve spent $190,386 on food.”

High prices and fewer donations have compounded to increase LiftUp’s overhead costs. As less food is donated, LiftUp staff must use money from the agency‘s budget to buy products from grocery stores themselves.

“I went this morning to buy milk, butter, canned soup and fresh produce,” said Scott Bourbeau, the food bank manager at LiftUp of Routt County “I went out and bought that to hopefully get through today.”

According to Fegelein, donations to LiftUp Food Bank are down. Community food donations dropped 38% this year from 41,670 pounds through this time in 2021 to 26,024 so far this year. 

The Grocery Rescue program provides a majority of the food bank’s donations and works in a partnership with local grocery stores and restaurants that donate food that would otherwise go to waste. Those donations have dropped 27%, according to Fegelein, from 94,715 pounds to 68,995. 

Meanwhile, demand for LiftUp’s food services has been going up. 

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“I’ll get 3,000 pounds of food in on Thursday from Food Bank of the Rockies, and then I’ll run numbers for that week, and we’re putting out 4,000 pounds of food,” Bourbeau said. 

According to Fegelein, the total number of individuals served at the food bank is up 55% over last year, and the number of children served through the Rocket Pack program that provides healthy snacks and summer lunches is up 24% over last year. 

Not only are more children enrolled in the Rocket Packs program, but the total number of snacks served to those children is up 74% compared to 2021. 

Among the items the food bank’s staff has worked hard to keep on the shelf, perishables have been especially tough to keep in stock.

“The basics like dairy, milk, cheese, eggs, those things we typically have to go out and buy on our own,” Bourdeau said. “And, you know, they’re expensive.” 

Procuring meat has been a challenge as well. Ground beef continues to be relatively abundant, Bourdeau said, but chicken, seafood and many other meat products have been getting more expensive and scarce. 

In lieu of trying to buy hundreds of turkeys like previous Thanksgivings, LiftUp of Routt County provided qualified households with Safeway gift cards to put toward buying a turkey from the grocery store. 

“Food Bank of the Rockies did have turkeys, but they didn’t have a lot on hand, and they were pretty expensive,” said Bourbeau. “So to try to buy that many turkeys for around 350 households, at the end of the day, it was just easier to get gift cards.” 

Bourdeau said Grocery Rescue food donations held steady during summer but steeply dropped off as winter settled. Meanwhile, this year’s swell of incoming seasonal workers has added to the run on LiftUp’s inventory. 

“We’re definitely seeing probably 10 to 20 new people every day signing up for the food bank for the last week, two weeks,” said Bourbeau, who added that the incoming workers are from all over the world. 

“Luckily, we have a bilingual person that works at our front desk who helps translate and get people through the application process,” Bourbeau said. 

Many seasonal workers will be waiting several weeks for their first paycheck. 

Bourbeau hopes more donations come in as Steamboat gets busier, which he says is a correlating trend most years.

Despite all the challenges, Fegelein encourages people to apply for LiftUp’s food services and emergency financial assistance. She says people are often surprised that they would qualify for the nonprofit’s services. 

She’s also confident Steamboat will come through for those who rely on the pantry at LiftUp.

“I have faith in our community,” Fegelein said. “They always pull through for us, especially when it comes to feeding people.”

Fegelein said food donations from stores and the community are always beneficial, but right now for those who want to help, financial contributions give LiftUp the biggest boost. 

“We can accumulate more food for the same amount of funds,” Fegelein said. “It gives us some flexibility in making sure that the foods we need are on the shelves, and then extend that spending power so we can get more food for the same amount of money.”

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