Livewell Northwest Colorado: Fighting food insecurity in Routt County
Have you ever gone to bed hungry? If so, you’re not alone. In a recent survey of LiftUp clients, 27 percent of those questioned said they had gone to bed hungry at least once in the past six months.
Have you ever had to skip a meal so someone else in your household could eat? Twenty-four percent of LiftUp clients surveyed reported they had skipped at least one meal in the past six months so that a family member would have enough to eat.
Have you ever found yourself without enough money to buy groceries? Forty percent of LiftUp clients reported running out of food for their families before they had the money to buy more.
These survey results tell a sobering story: Many of our neighbors, co-workers and friends here in Routt County do not have reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. They are food insecure.
Feeding America, an organization dedicated to fighting hunger, estimated in 2014 that 3,030 Routt County residents were food insecure. That’s roughly 13 percent of the people living in our county.
The number of people struggling to put healthy food on the table for their families isn’t really surprising when you consider the cost of living in our county. A living wage is the amount of money required to provide a household with basic needs: food, shelter and clothing.
According to the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, the living wage in Routt County in 2015 was $27.84 per hour for a household with one adult and one preschool aged child. Yet, the average hourly wage for a food service worker is $9.22 per hour, and the average hourly wage for a person employed in building and grounds cleaning is $11.44 per hour.
With such a disparity between earnings and the cost of living, you might assume that many LiftUp clients receive SNAP benefits, or food stamps. Sixty-one percent of LiftUp clients surveyed, however, report they have never applied for food stamps. Of those who state they have never applied, 43 percent said it’s because they think others need food assistance more than they do. Seventeen percent say they know they don’t qualify for SNAP.
Many hard-working people ensure their families have full stomachs by sacrificing quality for quantity. During a conversation I had with a single mother one day soon after I started working at LiftUp, I asked if she would like to have some strawberries that had been donated to the food bank. She was thrilled.
“My kids love strawberries, but I can’t afford them,” she told me. “If I have to choose between buying a carton of strawberries or a loaf of bread and a package of lunch meat, I’ll choose the bread and lunch meat every time, because the kids will eat all the strawberries in one sitting, but the sandwiches will last one week.”
When LiftUp clients were asked to identify the most important item they receive from the Food Bank, 46 percent said they most value receiving proteins, such as meat, eggs, tuna, peanut butter and beans. Fifteen percent of respondents said dairy products were very important, and 15 percent said fresh produce was very important.
There are several organizations in Routt County offering programs that promote food security. They include the following.
• Northwest Colorado Health (formerly the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association) administers the WIC program, offering supplemental foods, free nutrition counseling and breastfeeding support for women and their families. northwestcoloradohealth.org/what_we_do/public-health/wic.html.
• The public schools offer free and reduced lunches.
• Totally Kids offers SFSP, a breakfast and lunch program for children in Hayden. haydentotallykids.com/summer-food-service-program.html.
• The Department of Human Services administers SNAP. co.routt.co.us/index.aspx?nid=180
• Routt County Council on Aging provides congregate meals and Meals on Wheels for senior citizens. rccoaging.org/
• In addition to monthly food bank visits for residents, LiftUp provides TEFAP (governmental food commodities for low-income Americans), CSFP (governmental commodity foods for senior citizens) and the Rocket Pack (healthy snacks and lunches for low-income children). liftuprc.org/food-bank/
If you have neighbors who seem to be struggling to put food on the table, consider referring them to one of these agencies.
Laura von Boecklin, is executive director of Liftup of Routt County and a member of the Northwest Colorado Food Coalition.
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