A report released Tuesday by the Colorado Department of Human Services shows that despite $600,000 in food pantry assistance, the need for emergency food relief is still critically important.
The report detailed the assistance provided under House Bill 20-1422, among the package of bills passed in the latter part of the 2020 session intended to help Coloradans weather the pandemic.
While the program provided grants totaling $600,000 to food pantries and food banks across the state, the request for grants were twice what was available, the April 26 report said.
"The need for food banks and food pantries has risen exponentially during the pandemic, with recent polls showing that food insecurity has nearly tripled since the start of the pandemic across the state of Colorado," the report's summary said.
The grant programs provided funding to 123 hunger relief organizations in almost every county in the state.
The legislation served a dual purpose; in addition to providing grant funding to food banks, it also encouraged those food banks to purchase agricultural products from Colorado ranchers and farmers. The report said 62% of the funds did go for that purpose, although the target was 100%.
That wasn't possible, the report said, "because purchasing locally grown, raised or produced goods proved to be more difficult for small pantries than anticipated, due to the vast increase in the number of clients, pantry staff not having the time to search out new markets, availability and distance to reach local products, and other factors such as the growing season in Colorado. However, polling showed that 77% of the clients served by the food pantries preferred fresh foods, including those grown by local producers."
In one example, a "frontier community pantry shared that they were 'able to purchase a whole cow and provide steaks, stew meat, and hamburger to clients while supporting a local rancher.' " The report said 24% of the food purchased was meat, the number one item purchased by food pantries. That included lamb, veal and in one "frontier community," yak. Urban communities purchased bison, rabbit, frog legs and crab cakes.
Beans were the among the most common vegetables purchased by the rural pantries, according to the report.
Comments from the pantries were included. From Aurora Interfaith Community Services: "Due to the pandemic, we served over seven times more people in 2020 than we did in 2019, and this grant funding helped us to meet this increase in need. Grant dollars supported the purchase of Colorado meats for our brick-and-mortar food pantry and our new mobile food pantry that launched in response to the COVID pandemic. We served over 44,000 people and provided over 1.2 million meals in 2020. This grant has also helped AICS to support Colorado food producers through purchasing local food products, which may not otherwise have been a priority."
Another pantry said the grants helped them during a time when a more standard source, grocery stores, weren't able to provide the same level of donations during the pandemic. Another said they usually don't take donations of fresh milk because of expiration dates, but the grant allowed them to get milk on a more timely basis.
One-third of those visiting food banks during the pandemic said they had never done so before. But more than half of those surveyed said the biggest barriers are the hours that the pantries operate and language barriers.
Ki’i Powell, director of the Office of Economic Security at CDHS, said the "grant program allowed hundreds of food pantries to provide food to tens of thousands of Colorado families and individuals. We are proud of the work done, the families fed, and the opportunities it brought to support our neighbors who raise food here."