May 23, 2024 Meeting: Gunnison County Food Pantry

Gunnison County Food Pantry’s executive director, Jodi Payne, and food security coordinator, Jake Bartholomew, joined the CB Rotary Club’s meeting this morning to share their inspiring and critical work.

Jodi shared that 13%, over 1,700 people in Gunnison County live below the poverty line. 40% of our fellow community members live below the self-sufficient standard, meaning the make more than federal poverty levels but less than what they need to live in this county. A family of four needs to make at least $86,959, which is $30,000 less than Gunnison’s median income. Most of the employment opportunities in the county are lower-wage service industry jobs. In fact, about 40% pay less than $30,000 per year. This means many people have to work multiple jobs, and a study by Headwater Economics found that individuals in Gunnison County work 1.34 jobs, equaling 53.6 hours per week.

In the first five months of 2024, the Pantry, which is located at 114 S 14th St in Gunnison, has already served 1,500 individuals. They provide food assistance to those in need in a kind, confidential, and supportive environment. To do this, the Pantry offers 5 distributions of food a week. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, community members can shop at the Pantry’s No Cost Grocery Store, and on Tuesdays and Fridays, Pantry volunteers provide food delivery services for those with accessibility concerns. The Pantry also serves neighbors in the north end of the valley in three ways: a “Mini Pantry” at CBMR’s employee lounge, sample bags distributed annually to CBMR employees, and emergency boxes in five locations in CB and Mt CB.

The Mini Pantry at CBMR provides easy to prepare meals like canned foods, rice, pasta, and cereal that can be made without the use of an oven and is replenished every two weeks. The sample bags are provided in coordination with CBMR to their employees with information about the Pantry for anyone who may need to utilize its services. This April, the Pantry gave away 100 bags of free groceries at CBMR’s last ski day and let CBMR employees know about the assistance that the Pantry can provide during the off-season. Finally, each emergency box around the north end of the valley contains no-prep food for one person for 2-3 days. Despite these efforts, the Pantry’s staff and Board recognized that they may not be meeting the needs of our community in the north end of the valley and started Pop-Up Pantries in 2023.

The Pop-Up Pantries were hosted 3 times at the Mt CB transit center last summer to better understand how the Pantry could serve the community and provide food distribution to alleviate hunger needs in the north end of the valley. The three Pop-Up Pantries served 124 individuals, and the increased need for service in the north end of the valley was made apparent. The Pop-Up Pantries will be held on the 2nd and 4th Thursdays this July through December, half of which will be at the Mt CB transit center and half at the Oh Be Joyful Church in CB.

Jodi recalled a heart-rending moment from last year’s Pop-Up Pantries when two roommates were shopping and one turned to the other and said, “Oh my gosh, we get to eat tonight!”

The Gunnison County Food Pantry provides a low-barrier service due to the substantial number of community members who live below our county’s self-sufficient standard. Pantry guests complete a questionnaire and note their income level on a chart that states whether they qualify for federal food assistance. If they don’t, Pantry volunteers ask if they are in need of food today, and they’re provided with hunger relief assistance if their answer is yes.

What can we, the Rotarians of our community, do to help? Think about our neighbors who may be struggling with food insecurity, and find a way to share this information with our networks. Word of mouth is 3x more likely to bring a new guest to the Pantry. Share the Pantry’s location, hours, and north-valley services. Give to the Pantry financially, by donating food, or through your time as a volunteer. The Pantry in Gunnison and the Pop-Up Pantries in CB and Mt CB both need our volunteer help. Most of us eat apples whenever we want, but let’s think about those who cannot.

Finally, Jake put the Pantry to our own test:
First, is it the truth? Yes, there is food insecurity for families throughout our valley.
Second, is it fair to all concerned? Yes, the Pantry provides assistance to anyone in need. While life isn’t fair to many of our neighbors, we can work together to make it fairer.
Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Yes, spend one shift volunteering at the Pantry, and you’ll know the goodwill and better friendships!
Will it be beneficial to all concerned? Yes, let’s make our corner of the world as good as possible for everyone who lives here.