LiftUp of Routt County true to its mission despite ripples from high inflation
Manager says food prices up 18% and supplies are inconsistent
Since taking the position as food bank manager at LiftUp of Routt County, Scott Bourbeau has seen the price of food climb, and has found it increasingly difficult to acquire perishable goods.
“When you talk to food vendors, and the Food Bank of the Rockies, the number I’m getting from everyone, and from what I’m seeing, it’s pretty much a solid 18% rise in food cost,” said Bourbeau, who took the position with the food bank in January. “Not only that, but it’s also affecting what’s available to us, as well.”
He said that these challenges have been amplified by an uptick in demand as families across Routt County — who have been faced with rising fuel prices at the pump, higher prices at the grocery store and an uncertain future — are now dealing with food insecurities
“The cost of living and the cost of gas has been something that comes up a lot with people coming into the food bank,” Bourbeau said. “I mean, that’s kind of the normal feedback and conversations I’ve had with people who say there is not a lot of money being made to compensate for the cost of everything that is needed.”
Bourbeau said that the LiftUp of Routt County Food Bank served 1,079 individuals in 2020, and that number grew to 2,285 in 2021. In 2022, the food bank has served 2,096 individuals with four months remaining in the year.
To be eligible for LiftUp’s food programs, a person must make 300% of the federal poverty level or less. Anyone can access the Grab-n-Go food section daily in the front of the food banks during open hours without registering with LiftUp or showing identification.
LiftUp is not the only food bank dealing with the high prices and increased demand, according to Sue Ellen Rodwick, Western Slope Director for Food Bank of the Rockies.
“What we’re seeing is, right now as an organization, is we’re spending an average of $1.3 million every month to source food, which is three times more than what we were spending,” Rodwick said.
She said the Food Bank of the Rockies distribution center in Grand Junction covers all of Wyoming and most of Northern Colorado — including Steamboat Springs. It also manages the Grocery Rescue Program where pantries work with outlets like City Market, Walmart and Safeway to collect excess food items. The Food Bank of the Rockies also has a produce program that partners with community growers to supply produce at no cost to the pantry.
The Food Bank of the Rockies also collects and disperses food donations based on need, and fills food banks’ need for additional food at a reduced price.
“We have a wholesale purchasing power,” Rodwick said. “So, we’re able to buy things by the truckload — even Palisade peaches, and Oletha corn we’re buying by the truckload — so that we can get that out to our partners at a lower cost.”
In Steamboat, Bourbeau said his operations have been spending between $8,000 to $9,000 the past two months to purchase the food that fills the shelves, outside of produce and donated items. Last year, the food bank budgeted $7,000 per month.
“The thing that makes it difficult is the changing inventory between Food Bank of the Rockies and the other places where we get food,” Bourbeau said. “I can’t just say that this month I’m going to spend X amount of money on dairy products, and then I go there and they don’t have any … then I have to try to compensate to keep things stocked up, when I can keep them stocked up.”
When the food is not available, Bourbeau said he must pay retail prices for the same items. Recently he said some items including milk, cheese and eggs have been difficult to get. He added that there isn’t always selection of meat.
“There are a lot of times with the Food Bank of the Rockies where those items are not available,” Bourbeau said. “As you can imagine, those are the things that go the quickest here, and we tried to purchase those items from places like City Market, but as you can imagine that the cost of that adds up quickly.”
Last year, LiftUp distributed more than 150,000 pounds of food through the food bank and its Grab-n-Go programs. He said the best way to help the mission is with financial support because the organization can leverage every dollar to acquire more food. However, he added that he always welcomes donations.
Rodwick said the past few months have been a challenge, but that food pantries like LiftUp continue to serve their communities.
“We’re really, really trying to meet our mission statement of igniting the power of communities to nourish people facing hunger,” Rodwick said “So, whatever way we can ignite the local community and pantries and local entities to do that, we want to do that.”
John F. Russell is the business reporter at the Steamboat Pilot & Today. To reach him, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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