Many of us cannot imagine not being able to feed our families. We struggle to picture a day or a week when the pantry is bare, there's no money in the bank to buy groceries, and even the social services system of food stamps we've come to rely on is not functioning.
That's the situation in which thousands of people in Colorado Springs and across southern Colorado have found themselves in recent weeks. Care & Share Food Bank, a member of America's Second Harvest and the largest food assistance provider in the region, estimates that 9.6 percent of Coloradans live in poverty and regularly struggle to feed themselves and their families.
The problem has been exacerbated in recent weeks by a glitch in the state's Department of Human Services computer system that left thousands of food stamp recipients with no money to replenish their food stamp cards. And that, says Care & Share spokesperson Scottie Bibb, has resulted in a rush for food on local food pantries and the central Care & Share Food Bank.
"With this food stamp problem with DHS, people weren't able to use their cards to purchase groceries and were using the food banks as an alternative," said Bibb. "Pantries in town typically serving 10 families were serving 30. It wiped them all out."
As supplies diminished at the estimated 180 local neighborhood food pantries and soup kitchens (approximately 400 across southern Colorado), agencies came to Care & Share for emergency restocking.
"Over the last week, we allocated 100,000 pounds of food we wouldn't normally be giving out," said Bibb.
To put it in perspective, that's about five 24-foot-long trucks filled with food.
And the food shortage problem doesn't extend only to inner-city soup kitchens. In Springs suburbs, over the past few years, thousands have lost jobs and now live in a hand-to-mouth situation, having to choose some months whether to pay for food, for utilities, or for medical care after losing insurance.
Northern Churches Care is a local agency that serves people who need food or other kinds of assistance and who are referred by their church congregations. In the past month, says Bibb, their need for emergency food increased dramatically.
"Where normally we see them about once a month, we let them come and shop two Fridays in a row because they were out of food," said Bibb.
"It's one thing to get low, but this much of an increased demand has been really, really difficult for us and for the small pantries as well. It's been a tense couple of weeks."
Typically, this time of year the food banks are low on stock, as giving drops off during the summer months and organized food drives happen in the fall and spring. So the current food shortage, aggravated by the DHS computer problem and rising numbers of people in need of food, has hit at a particularly bad time.
Some local organizations are doing what they can to help. A food drive organized by Citadel Communications last week raised 7,000 pounds of food for Care & Share.
On Oct. 23, the new Wild Oats Market will hold an Iron Chef-type competition with local chef judges to raise money for the food bank, currently celebrating its 30th anniversary in the Springs.
Brent Beavers of Sencha, Jay Gust of The Ritz Grill and Robert Reed of the Antlers Hilton will act as judges while teams of cooks from local television news stations will prepare one appetizer and one entree under strict time lines with a variety of preselected ingredients.
The cooking starts at 5:30 p.m., with the judging of the appetizers at 7 p.m. and the judging of the entrees at 8 p.m. Three cooking stations will be set up throughout the store and Wild Oats will provide food for the guests as well as an open bar. Five-dollar tickets will buy a chance at the raffle of a $1,000 savings bond or a week in Mexico, as well as many other prizes.
Besides shelling out 50 bucks for a fancy food fund-raiser, what can people do on a daily basis to help the problem?
"Go to the supermarket and use those coupons for buy one, get one free deals," said Bibb. "Take the food you get free, bag it up and drop it off at the food bank. We'll pretty much take anything perishable or nonperishable, but nothing handmade or home-canned."
-- Kathryn Eastburn
A Recipe for Hope: A Fundraiser and 30th Anniversary Celebration for Care & Share Saturday, Oct. 23, 7-9 p.m. Wild Oats Market, 3180 N. New Center Point Tickets $50; cocktail attire recommended Call 528-1247 for more information or to R.S.V.P.
Share Our Strength Writers Harvest Benefit Reading: An Evening of Fine Poetry and Fiction Thursday, Nov. 4 Smokebrush Foundation Gallery, 218 W. Colorado Ave. (under the bridge) $5 and a canned food donation Call 477-1028 for more
Bring donations of money or nonperishable food to Care & Share 4875 Northpark Drive (one block east of I-25 on Garden of the Gods Road) Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Call 528-1247 or visit www.careandshare.org
If you need food, get a referral to a local food pantry by calling the Care & Share Help Line, 528-6767.