Speak Your Piece: Feeding the San Luis Valley

In the San Luis Valley of Colorado, the food pantry has moved beyond providing emergency assistance to serving as a reliable, routine way to supplement the diets of low-income families. Service-worker Rachel Woolworth introduces us to some of the regulars — veterans, the disabled, parents and senior citizens.

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Feeding America’s research, suggesting that seniors are the most consistent clients for their national network of food banks and that one in 12 seniors in the United States are food insecure.

Mark and Joan Cook are both mentally disabled. They work together to navigate the Food Bank with increasing ease each week. helping them become more self-sufficient. The Food Bank eases the hardship of surviving on a monthly Supplemental Security Income (SSI) stipend.

It is also extremely common for the Food Bank to serve disabled community members (these clients are also often seniors). Throughout the Food Bank’s CSBG intake, 60% of our households self-identified as having a disabled person and nearly a quarter receive monthly SSI benefits. Because many disabled clients can’t work and it is nearly impossible to support oneself, let alone a family, on $733 a month, the Food Bank is vital.

Maria Hernandez is one of the few clients who heads straight to the produce, oohing and awing in excitement over the slightly browning fruits and vegetables. She’s game for anything from the meat fridge too: chicken livers, tripe, chitlins, beef cheek — she knows how to cook it all. Maria is a mother of four trying to survive on her husband’s modest income and their benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Maria represents another large demographic of our clientele — parents or caretakers working to provide their family with a balanced nutritional intake. Between limited job opportunities in the Valley, seasonal agricultural work, a dwindling federal SNAP budget (41% of Food Bank clients receive SNAP), and other pressures, the food bank becomes a consistent crutch for households attempting to keep adults and children healthy.

There are occasions, particularly throughout harvest season when thousands of migrant workers pass through the Valley, when the Food Bank only sees a client once, but they are the exception.

Rich, Mark and Joan, and Maria are representative of our clientele, a vibrant group who combine their income, SNAP, and the Food Bank in order to stay satiated and healthy. One of the three isn’t enough. And this isn’t just a quantitatively based conclusion. Every day people tell me, they don’t know what they would do without us and that every little bit helps.

The Food Bank Network is not going to end hunger in the Valley, but I does provide a supplemental safety net for low-income households who can’t get by on a government stipend or a seasonal job alone.

Until the cycle of poverty is eradicated in the Valley the Food Bank Network will continue to be a systematic part of residents’ lives. Unfortunately, since this hardship isn’t going away anytime soon, the importance of food pantries in the Valley and across the U.S. will persist – easing the burden of poverty and hunger for all.  

A message from the Rural Assembly

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