As the coronavirus pandemic continues, Southern Colorado food banks are expanding their efforts to make sure community members have access to healthy meals.
Lynne Telford, the CEO of Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado, said the organization serves around 200,000 people through more than 250 partner agencies spread across the region. In a recent report, Telford said they've seen a 42 percent increase in food distribution between March and July of this year in comparison to last year.
Telford said other large-scale disasters, like the Waldo Canyon fire, prepared the organization for how to handle the increase.
"We have been through disasters before and had to ramp up," said Telford. "It seems like every year something happens."
Of the over 250 partner agencies, Telford said about 14 have closed. Many of those sites were churches located in El Paso County. Of those, Telford said it was mostly due to a desire to keep primarily elderly volunteers safe from contracting the virus. She said she's hopeful they will be able to reopen after the pandemic.
One partner site is First Presbyterian Church in Salida. Tom Abbott, a pastor with the church, said the food bank has been open for around 20 years. Abbott said they initially saw a drop-off of people and families accessing food, which he credits to the fact that other businesses and the senior center also started providing food.
"Now we're pretty much back to normal in terms of people," said Abbott. "We've been seeing more people steadily as time goes on and we get further away from the beginning of this pandemic."
Abbott said the pantry serves about 30 people and families a week in Salida. He said the community's outpouring of financial support has kept the food bank full since March.
"So from a financial standpoint, we have more resources than we've ever had," said Abbott. "We feel like we're well-set to be buying food going into the fall."
Helping Communities in the Pandemic
For Telford, despite the closures, Care and Share is expanding sites and access.
"Care and Share is really working on what we need to do for the pandemic now and what we need to do to be serving people five, ten years from now," said Telford.
The organization plans to open a new food pantry in Pueblo in December, as well as a new distribution center in the San Luis Valley.