“Nothing is real to us but hunger,” says the Japanese scholar Kakuzo Okakura in his book “Book of Tea.”
It is easy to think this is only something that would ring true for citizens in Third World countries. Many people come to Pagosa Springs by way of a second home, because this is where they vacation, or to take advantage of the outdoor activities. Yet, hunger is something that is felt by people in this community. In hard financial times, more people live straddling and under the poverty line. Sometimes, this means living without. However, families cannot go without food, water and shelter — not for long.
To address this issue of hunger, food banks in the community have formed. The four in town, each associated with a church, are Community United Methodist’s food pantry, St. Patrick’s Episcopal food bank, Pope John Paul II Catholic Church’s food bank and Restoration Fellowship food share. All of these food banks give food to those in the community who are in need, no questions asked.
Tom Cruse has been working with the St. Patrick’s food bank for several years. “The need for food in this county is much bigger than anyone can address, but address it we must,” says Cruse.
The trend, according to Cruse, is that as the winter months set on, summer jobs are lost, more people come to the food banks in need. Last January, St. Patrick’s gave out 90 food boxes.
As of September, Pope John Paul II, according to Ellie Douglass, has spent over $9,600 on food since January and has given out 300 boxes of food. The Methodist Church’s food pantry program serves approximately 900 families per year. Food is given out every day except Saturday.
Both St. Patrick’s and Pope John Paul II food banks operate solely with donations and grants. To meet the needs of the community, the average annual amount spent on food at each food bank is $15,000.
The Methodist and Restoration Fellowship programs use national organizations known as the Nationwide Food Bank Network. They order food through the southwest region’s Care and Share, whose trucks of food come once a week.
“When people come in, it’s obvious that food is a real necessity,” Cruse says. “And the people who come in are in all ages and conditions.”
All the food banks beside Restoration Fellowship give out food boxes. The boxes are all very similar, containing canned vegetables and fruit, soup, cereal, peanut butter, pasta, spaghetti sauce, canned meat and other miscellaneous items, and are designed to last a family of four about three days.
“Imagine having to choose between food and Kotex,” poses Ellie Douglas. “What would you choose for your family? The food. So, many woman are using paper towels.”
Food, as people know, is climbing in price. Canned beans, canned fruit, canned tuna, flour and sugar, all items that all the food banks can use, are becoming expensive. Food bank personnel do not know how much money they will make next year, or how long they will be able to serve the community; however, as long as they can, they will. If a person comes in with hunger, with a need of food, they will find a way to feed them.
“Feeding the families and individuals who need food in this community is our number-one outreach priority,” says Cruse.
As well as food, there is soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, razors — the little things that so easily become a part of one’s routine daily life. Some people can’t afford to make it a routine.
“We need everything,” said Douglas. “People are excited to have anything I give.” Douglass adds that several hotels in town have been very generous in donating toiletries, but there is still a need.
Common items needed by all food banks are: pasta, oatmeal, canned fruit, canned vegetables, canned meat, peanut butter. Other items besides food needed are toothbrushes, toothpaste, razors, dish soap, washing soap and feminine hygiene products.
Also, due to the number of people who are living in a tent or in their car, Pope John Paul II has started to prepare “camping boxes.” These boxes are filled with items that do not require cooking or can openers. “A lot of people don’t have can openers,” Douglas explains.
Canned goods with pop-tops are great items to donate, and go into the “camping boxes.”
Though people do not like to talk about their financial situations, and don’t want to discuss the inability to buy food or pay the heating bills, it is a situation in which many individuals and families find themselves.
“Who I’m helping today may be helping me tomorrow,” Douglas says.
To continue to help, all food banks are in need of donations.
Currently, local Girl Scouts are doing a food drive for the community. Pagosa Springs High School is planning a Halloween food drive as well.
For those in need of food, Pope John Paul II food bank will be moving to its downtown location at the Parish Hall on Lewis Street, the first of November, and gives out boxes on Wednesdays. Contact 731-5744.
St. Patrick’s gives out food boxes at its Parish Hall between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. every Thursday. It is located on 225 S. Pagosa Blvd., next to the Pagosa Springs Medical Center. Contact 731-5801.
Restoration Fellowship allows individuals to select items from their food pantry every Sunday after their 9 a.m. church service. It is located at 264 Village Drive, behind City Market. Contact 731-2937.
The Community United Methodist’s food pantry gives out food boxes Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Go the church office at 434 Lewis Street, downtown. Contact 264-5508.