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Fighting back against food insecurity: Community food banks see rising demand


Local food pantries throughout Archuleta County have been experiencing increases in the number of people they are serving, with some noting significant increases initially with the COVID-19 pandemic that haven’t subsided.

One pantry, Our Community Eats (OCE), recently had a record-breaking day for the organization by serving 116 households in a single day on April 22. 

OCE formerly operated as the Restoration Fellowship Food Pantry through the Restoration Fellowship church, which began in 2009, and had 250 square feet of shopping space and 600 square feet of storage space, according to OCE Director Kathrine Solbert.

In May 2023, the organization became a registered nonprofit 501(c)(3), officially forming OCE and moving into a 5,000-square-foot building. 

OCE treasurer Sandra Dillon explained in an interview that becoming its own nonprofit allowed the organization to “dramatically expand” the amount of food it could receive and to also be able to apply for more grant funding.

She mentioned that when it was operating under the church, the food pantry solely relied on donations, but now as a 501(c)(3), the pantry is able to work with federal organizations like The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), and state level organizations like the Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado.

Dillon explained that many people coming in are average, working-class people in the Pagosa Springs community who are turning to food pantry services to supplement their grocery bills.

“People are so appreciative because, what we’re finding is we actually don’t serve a lot of homeless … these are your average people in Pagosa who have been so squeezed by inflation that they are at least using us to supplement their needs,” she said, adding that some folks are supplementing just a portion of their groceries and others supplementing all of it with the food pantry service.

Dillon also mentioned that many of the people coming in to pick up food are also the same ones volunteering at the pantry.

“What’s really beautiful is that we have people who come to the pantry to take food and they actually volunteer there as well. That’s how they give back,” she said. “It’s like, this is only going to work if the community is involved, to help everybody eat.”

She went on to explain that the numbers of people served fluctuate each month, but “the general trend is up,” noting that OCE is responsible for approximately 60 percent of the amount of people served by food pantries in the county.

OCE is also the fourth-largest food pantry in southwest Colorado in terms of the amount of food received, according to Dillon.

Dillon also explained that by becoming a 501(c)(3), there are few more bills to be paid every month like rent and utilities, and that OCE hopes to be able to use grant money not only to secure a steady food supply, but also to pay those extra bills.

OCE currently has about 45 volunteers that help out with operations like unloading food trucks and stocking shelves.

Solbert explained that she joined OCE in June of 2021 and that the organization had served 21 families, a total of 101 people that month. Last month, April, OCE served a total of 3,127 people in 1,175 households.

“It’s a huge growth,” Solbert said, adding that OCE distributed a total of $132,738.59 worth of food for the month of April.

Solbert explained the demand for the food pantry is growing and notes that many working-class households are starting to not be able to afford groceries the way they could have just a few years ago due to inflation of food prices.

“So, what we’re seeing is that a lot of working families are coming in,” she said.

Solbert shared a story about a friend with special dietary needs who has to buy the same grocery items consistently and that her grocery bill has increased 70 percent since 2020 for those same items.

“Nobody can afford that that’s living paycheck to paycheck,” she added.

She explained that people who work full-time jobs likely have other bills to pay monthly like rent or mortgage, insurance and car payments and that, when forced to, people will make sacrifices on their groceries because it is not a set monthly payment.

“If you have to make a cut somewhere, it’s going to be your grocery bill because it’s variable. It’s not like a set bill you have to pay every month,” she said. “The pain of hunger is outrageous.”

Solbert also talked about how OCE and other food pantries in the county work with local ranchers and farmers in order to obtain fresh and locally sourced produce and meats, adding that OCE applies for grants to be able to purchase food from local sources.

“So, we are getting grass-fed beef in here,” she added.

Solbert’s passion and drive to serve the community through OCE comes from her own life experience, both as a kid and as an adult, struggling to keep enough food around.

“I knew hunger at the age of 6. It was rough. I grew up with that pain,” she said. 

She explained she is upset with the current state of our society and she believes the middle class is being “squeezed” financially, also noting that funding for major food bank organizations like TEFAP and Care and Share for southern Colorado are losing funding.

“That’s where my passion comes from, so that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing,” Solbert said.”This is my way of fighting back.”

According to Feeding America, the nationwide nonprofit that provides funding for organizations like TEFAP, the 2024 Agriculture Appropriations Bill reduced funding for food distribution from $92 million provided in 2023 to $80 million for this fiscal year.

“We’re all in the same boat,” Solbert said. “It’s going to take all of us to feed all of us.”

OCE is open four days a week for two hours and is 100 percent volunteer based, with many patrons also volunteering their time to work a shift at the pantry along with being employed full-time, Solbert explained.

At OCE, patrons are given a shopping cart with a plastic bin and are allowed to fill up the bin with whatever nonperishable items they like while produce, meats and dairy products are allocated based on what the pantry has available.

Patrons are asked to sign in by providing their name and household size, information that is shared only with Healthy Archuleta, another 501(c)(3) nonprofit that works to provide food sources to all of the food pantries in the county.

While Healthy Archuleta does not operate its own pantry, the organization applies for grants to purchase food it then distributes amongst the food pantries locally.

Healthy Archuleta’s Vanessa Skean explained in an interview that the COVID-19 pandemic brought an increased need for food pantry services in the county.

“There was kind of a need at that time to kind of bring everyone together to see how we could support the community,” Skean said.

She explained that the food pantry network in Archuleta County formed in April 2020, which consists of members from each food pantry in the county. It has been meeting monthly since. 

She explained that Healthy Archuleta helps coordinate and seek funding opportunities for all of the food pantries.

Skean spoke about how when the pandemic first hit there was “a lot of money available” for food programs, and that now that funding is “drying up,” but the demand is still there.

“So now there’s a lot of organizations serving a lot of people and there just isn’t a lot of funding resources to go around between them,” she said.

Healthy Archuleta hosts multiple events throughout the year to promote the organization and collect food donations. Some of these events include quarterly food drives and the Archuleta Food Summit, which took place this year on May 11.

The food summit will provide local residents the opportunity to network with local ranchers and farmers to learn more about the landscape of local food production.

Joline Left Hand Bull, a volunteer with Healthy Archuleta, explained in an interview that Healthy Archuleta also puts on events like school food drives where students see which grade can raise the most in food donations. 

Healthy Archuleta also leaves a food donation bin in the UPS store year-round where people can make donations of nonperishable items any time.

“Food has always been a challenge,” Left Hand Bull said.

She added that the local community is very supportive of the local food pantry services.

“One thing about the people in the community — they always come together,” she said. “It’s nice to know that you live in a community where people are able or willing or wanting to help when they can.”

Left Hand Bull also explained that Healthy Archuleta offers a variety of classes like gardening and cooking to help people further.

Healthy Archuleta puts out a monthly newsletter with event news and other helpful information for local residents looking for food resources, which can be found online at

There are currently seven food pantry organizations in the county: five in Pagosa Springs, one in the Aspen Springs subdivision and one in Arboles. All of the food pantry services are free for whoever needs food.

The second biggest food pantry in the county, in terms of people served, is the Arboles food pantry, which is operated through the TARA Community Center.

Susan Halkin, who helps run the pantry, explained in an interview that it has also been experiencing increases in the number of people coming in.

“Our numbers are increasing on a regular basis,” she said. “We’re constantly writing grants to make us sustainable.”

She noted that, in March, the pantry served a total of 787 people in 322 families. Of that total 405 were adults, 138 were children and 244 were seniors (60+).

She mentioned that included 58 new people in 16 new households compared to February.

Halkin explained that the Arboles community usually experiences more traffic in the summer months.

Halkin also spoke about how she works with numerous local food producers, noting that some donate “quite generously.”

The Arboles food pantry first opened in 2020 and currently has eight volunteers to help run it. The food pantry shares a space with the community center’s library and history center, noting that the food pantry “basically has a hallway” lined with shelves for patrons to choose their items, and just one shared storage space.

Although its space is limited, the Arboles community center is the ideal place for the food pantry right now, Halkin explained.

“This is our community … it’s really where everything happens is right in this area, and I don’t think we have any reason to want to move to a different location.”

Pope John Paul II Catholic Church in Pagosa Springs operates a food pantry that is open once a week on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. until noon.

Food coordinator Dennis Schick explained in an interview that he has also noticed an increase in people coming in for food, saying, “The price of everything has gone up so much in the store that we’re seeing people who even have jobs who can’t afford to continue to feed their families, so, yes, everything’s been going up.”

He also mentioned inflation seems to be forcing more people to rely on the food pantry service.

“We’re seeing all kinds of people need help now,” he added.

Mark Disbrow, who runs the Aspen Springs Food Pantry through Amazing Grace Church, noted in an interview that he noticed a spike in people coming in for food during the pandemic and that “has been continued on since then, so it’s not anything that happened in the last month or two.” 

Linda Grover, who helps run the Community United Methodist Church food pantry mentioned in an interview that it serves approximately 30-40 families a month and anticipates an increase with the summer season approaching.

The newest food pantry in the county is the Socorro Senior Housing food pantry, which is run by Jim Fait and is in its third year of operation.

Fait explained in an interview that his main focus is serving the elderly and low-income residents. 

He noted he consistently serves 22 residents at Socorro and 17 residents at the Casa De Los Arcos housing complex, in addition to anyone else who comes in.

“If I can provide help for them, that’s what I’m here for,” he said.

Fait mentioned that he lets patrons choose what they like, usually one to two bags worth of food, depending on what he has in stock.

“If someone needs food, I give it to them,” he added.

Fait also mentioned that he has noticed more people coming in recently.

“It does seem like more people are walking,” he said, adding that he feels the food pantry network in the county is doing well in terms of getting people food who need it.

“I believe it’s working pretty well,” he said.