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Food for Thought: A look at food distribution in Durango

Food for Thought: A look at food distribution in Durango

By Morgan Reed Indy Staff Writer

Thursday, November 26, 2020 | Number of views (4851)

According to Greg Rosalsky, a reporter for National Public Radio, the unemployment rate hit 14.7% in April — the most disastrous figure since the Great Depression. 

With unemployment comes poverty, and with poverty comes food insecurity. 

With many Americans hurting right now, the Durango community has made many efforts to be there for those who are in need of healthy, nutritional food.

Marissa Hunt, the program services manager at Manna Soup Kitchen, emphasized the importance of a balanced diet, especially in reference to college students. 

“Many students adhere to the ramen college lifestyle, but it is super important for those in college to have grocery help,” Hunt said. 

Manna provides this grocery servicing through its many programs such as assistance with getting enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Hunt said. Although you can navigate the ins and outs of SNAP on your own, Manna Soup Kitchen in Durango provides assistance in that application process as well, she said. The process can be difficult, said Hunt, but Manna provides those who want to be involved with the proper guidance that can ease the stress of applying. With SNAP assistance, you can be approved $204 per month towards grocery help, Hunt said.

The guidelines for SNAP eligibility are not all-inclusive, but according to a survey conducted by the American Journal of Public Health, 31% of college students utilize this service, permitting them to buy nutritional food via the federal government’s expense, yet 1.8M college students who could get SNAP benefits aren't because they either don’t understand or aren’t aware of the program.

If grocery help is a necessity, Manna has implemented a grab-and-go option available for community members in need, Hunt said. The number of those utilizing this service has grown in response to COVID-19, she said. 

Manna is not the only organization to make this claim. Due to the pandemic, the Meals on Wheels organization has distributed meals to double the number of people they did before, Vicki Maestas, director of the La Plata County Senior Services, said.

 They have not been able to offer their clients the option to come into the senior center for a free, hot meal, but instead, have been distributing all meals by delivery, she said. 

Maestas also directly oversees the Meals on Wheels operation, she said. 

They had to cut all of their volunteers who did the delivering before COVID-19, a decision based on the safety of the volunteers, as the majority are most vulnerable to contracting the virus due to their age, she said. 

The volunteers for Meals on Wheels are typically retired, but the organization is looking  to collaborate with FLC to acquire more student volunteers, she said.

Since the start of the pandemic, Meals on Wheels has collaborated with the Good Food Collective and local restaurants like Cantera Kitchen that were willing to provide pre-packaged meals, Maestas said.

The GFC, also partnered with Manna Soup Kitchen in a Take Home Backpack service, which allows students to come and pick up a bag that holds enough food to cover their weekend meals, Rachel Landis, the GFC director, said. Each backpack consists of two breakfasts, two lunches, and three dinners for each recipient, in addition to two snacks and one vegetable. Any food insecure child can qualify for the program, many of whom are identified through their school’s free and reduced lunch program. This service is provided weekly.

The main objective of the Good Food Collective is to figure out a way to create end markets for farmers that will bump their revenue, she said. 

“You can’t have food without the farmers, and the cost of living in La Plata County is 2.7 times the poverty line,” Landis said. “Most farmers aren’t making that.” 

Local farming operation, Adobe House Farm, is involved with the Southwest Farm Fresh Cooperative, a group consisting of local farmers that deliver food around the La Plata County area, said Reid Smith, a farmer at Adobe House.

Smith said that he believes in the initiative of groups like this and hopes that the community can come together to boost local food and increase distribution. 

Adobe House Farms grows all of their own food and offers a delivery service of their own, said Smith. 

Adobe House Farms is a food service for paying customers, yet they do partner with a nutritional food service for women, infants, and children, (WIC), Smith said. 

As most of their distribution operations slow down in the winter months, the leftover crops from Reid Farms goes to James Ranch, Reid said.

On the other hand, GFC turns to dehydration as a way to preserve local foods through the winter months, Landis said. She said that they use a machine that pulls the moisture from the fruits making them easier to preserve. Much of the fruit that has been harvested will be dehydrated and distributed in this form, and aside from fruits, GFC stores away any produce with a longer shelf life through the winter, she said. 

As for fruit conservation in the community, the GFC provides a resource on their website that lists over 500 fruit trees that are ready to be gleaned. 

These orchards or fruit tree owners extend their harvest to anyone within the area by allowing people to come and pick fruit before it goes to waste, Landis said.

The processes behind food distribution require the involvement of farmers, coordinators, distributors, and even occasionally volunteers. In Durango, oftentimes the organizations that provide food services or food delivery are intertwined in some way, and as Maestas, Meals on Wheels supervisor, said, it is not uncommon for food service providers of different organizations in the area to meet and discuss ways to improve the process. 

In Maestas’s words, “Food is essential,” and, “We are always working hard to keep from duplicating services as well as communicating to discover other resources that are out there.”

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