Fremont County’s four federal prisons employ a sizable portion of the local workforce.
But as the partial government shutdown continues, that means a lot of people are out of work and needing to feed their families.
Many of those workers have turned to a food pantry in the small, dusty town of Penrose, found in a swath of wide open land between Cañon City and Pueblo.
The founder of My Neighbor’s Cupboard, Amanda Suddoth, prefers not to think of it as a food pantry. She simply calls the all-volunteer organization a free grocery store.
My Neighbor’s Cupboard is about the size of an emptied-out gas station. Shelves hold staple items for everyday life: pet food and toiletries, bags of rice and perishables like milk and eggs.
Anyone in need can come to the pantry, fill out a sheet of paper and shop, for free, once a week. Normally, the pantry serves about 350 people a month.
But in just the past week, My Neighbor’s Cupboard had helped an additional 500 federal employees on top of their regular clientele, with more coming in daily.
As Suddoth helps federal workers in need, she’s also feeling the same pinch.
Although though she runs the pantry, Suddoth is a volunteer like everyone else. Not only that, her husband is an unpaid employee with one of the federal prisons up the road, making the financial situation all the tighter. The couple has two kids.
“So, we’re a family without an income,” Suddoth said.
Her husband has been deemed an essential federal employee. He’s been working a lot of extra hours, usually 16-hour shifts to cover for the work normally done by non-essential employees currently on furlough.
The prospect of another missed federal paycheck this week weighs heavily on Suddoth.
“It is concerning for all of us,” Suddoth said. “How far are mortgage companies going to be willing to stretch? Same with your car insurance and things like that. Medicine for your kids, that’s a huge thing.”
The family has already burned through the savings they had put away for times like these. Suddoth is legally prohibited from using the My Neighbor’s Cupboard services, even though she is the director and founder. There are no other pantry options in the immediate area for her to go to.
Neighbors are stepping up to help the family, Suddoth said. My Neighbor’s Cupboard is currently selling special coffee mugs to raise money, printed with: “Shutdowns can’t shut us down, supporting our B.O.P. (Bureau of Prisons) in Fremont County.”
“We’re a big family, we’re a family that’s struggling,” she said, choking up. “When you see that many people hurting and you hurt the same as they do, it becomes emotional.”