Tour of new food bank, expanded thrift store gives insight into LiftUp of Routt County’s growth
Steamboat Springs — Kate Nowak toured the new LiftUp of Routt County Food Bank on Tuesday and got her first glimpse of the building and what it has to offer to the residents of Steamboat Springs.
The executive director of Routt County United Way said the new space was more than she had expected, and she was thrilled that the community now has a food bank of this caliber.
The new building, on the corner of Curve Court and Shield Drive in West Steamboat, is slightly bigger than the food bank’s old space but it includes several key additions such as a walk-in refrigerator, a walk-in freezer and commercial sinks, which will help the food bank provide more services and better choices for the clients who use the facility.
“It was the first time I’ve been in the new food bank,” Nowak said. “I thought it was gorgeous. It looks like a grocery store, and it provides a sense of dignity, of value and of self worth to the folks who walk through the doors. That’s what we want to provide to all of our citizens of Routt County.”
The food bank is part of a three-phase expansion at LiftUp that will change the way the organization serves its clientele who are relying on the thrift store, food bank and services provided by the group to get back on their feet.
The expansion started when LiftUP purchased the building next to its existing location and created the new food bank. The building is modern and bright, and the new space includes a few offices where employees can meet with clients privately to discuss sensitive issues and develop a plan where people can get the food and help they need to get by. The building also includes a backroom with a commercial-grade processing area.
“Those walk-ins are huge,” LiftUp Executive Director Laura Von Boecklin said. “What we found when I started is that we were giving out a lot of bakery items because that’s what we were getting from the grocery stores. Now that we have the walk-in refrigerator and freezer, we can tell the community and tell those grocery stores we have got room and we want more produce. We should be able to get that produce in and get it out to our clients.”
As a result of new processing area, von Boecklin is anticipating a 30 percent increase in the amount of fresh produce and proteins they’ll be able to provide clients.
“The fresh produce and proteins are what our clients said that they wanted to have in surveys,” von Boecklin said. “Those things are an important part of their diet, but they just can’t afford them.”
In order to offer fresh produce, the food bank needed to be improved to meet local health codes. Von Boecklin said the Routt County Health Department was very helpful through the expansion process and played a vital role in helping make it a success.
“They were the impetus behind the increased capacity that we now have,” von Boecklin said. “They pushed us to be the best that we could be with all the commercial-grade sinks and the walk-in refrigerator and freezer.”
The food bank will share the freezer with the Community Agriculture Alliance, who helped purchase the freezer. It will used to store meats from local producers that will be distributed to local restaurants.
In addition to an expanded food bank, LiftUp of Routt County was able to re-open a remodeled thrift store Tuesday. Volunteers were still busy hanging clothing on racks, but the store’s increased size, new floor and recently painted walls were immediately noticeable. Dressing rooms were added, and the old donation center was turned into new thrift store space.
The old food bank was then turned into a new donation center.
The expansion is key to LiftUp’s future plans. Von Boecklin said the store generated more than $200,000 last year, which supported the food bank, emergency funds for families in crisis and several work programs that are designed to get people back on their feet after a major life event.
“I doubt there will be an increase in the number of folks that we serve,” von Boecklin said, explaining that LiftUp annually serves 10 percent of Routt County’s population. “But there will be a change in the way we are serving our clients and the community. We will always provide emergency assistance because we are dedicated to that, but I think what we will see is that we are helping people get to the point where they are not in crisis and help them find a place where they can become more self-sufficient.
“Our goal is not to serve more people but to change the way we are serving them,” von Boecklin added.
For more information about LiftUp, visit liftuprc.org.
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