MONTE VISTA— According to Monte Vista Emergency Food Bank Director Jennifer Becker, some assistance is needed from the community to keep the food bank in a sustainable mode for around 2,000 people and over 500 local households that utilize its services annually. Becker (wife of Mayor Dale Becker) attended the June 6 regular meeting of the Monte Vista City Council to ask for a $500 donation from the city government and to inform them and the public of needs for this valuable community resource.
Becker began by giving some biographical background regarding her work with the food bank. She stated she has been a volunteer with the food bank for about six years, during which time she was on an on-call as-needed basis. She sat on the board for three years and has been the director since July 2018. Becker said her dad Lyle Dye, who has been on the food bank board for around 15 years, is who really pushed her into making this contribution.
“A lot of people are really unaware of the effects of hunger and how much it impacts our own community,” said Becker. She then presented the historical facts of the emergency food bank. “The food bank began on July 7, 1984, and the St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church donated the original building on a $1 a year lease. Eight different churches helped sponsor the food bank with food, monetary donations, but the original building was only 384 square feet. We quickly realized the need for a bigger building. Plans went underway for a brand new 1,700 square foot facility. The Monte Vista Rotary donated $1,000 in seed money in 1998 to construct a new building. The Episcopal church was awarded a $19,500 grant, and the Monte Vista Rotary and Monte Vista Kiwanis raised an amazing $65,000,” she said. With an outpouring of community support the new building was opened and became a reality in March 2000. Facility updates such as coolers and a walk-in freezer allowed the food bank to continue meeting the increasing demand for assistance.
Becker then gave statistics on the appearance of hunger in the state of Colorado, using information from Hunger Free Colorado. She touched on a few points taken directly from their website. “Nearly one in 11 people in Colorado struggle with hunger. More than one in 10 people struggle financially living below the federal poverty line. This includes one in eight kids, with those under the age of five most likely to live in poverty. Nearly one in seven people in Colorado may not always know where and when they will get their next meal. In a room of 50 older adults, three of them are facing hunger in Colorado and are forced to make choices between purchasing groceries or medications. About 21,000 veterans in Colorado live in households that participate in food stamps at some point during a 12-month period,” she said.
Becker shared that over 10 percent of Monte Vista’s population uses the food bank each year. On average the food bank spends up to $30,000 on just food to serve clients with. That number doesn’t include operational costs such as phone, overhead, internet bags and supplies. The church does let the food bank use the building for nothing, but according to Becker the food bank is responsible for paying certain aspects of the building.
The Monte Vista Emergency Food Bank runs under the La Puente organization, but is still almost entirely self-run. La Puente provides help with holiday food, things such as turkeys and hams for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Otherwise the food bank runs on donations of food, hygiene items and monetary contributions from individuals, organizations, churches and businesses.
Becker then explained her reason for approaching the Monte Vista City Council. “We’ve recently been faced with a dilemma. Our main food supplier (Jack’s Market of Del Norte) has ended our contract due to going corporate. We got amazing prices from them, and I’ve been working diligently to find a source that will somewhat be comparable, so far with little luck,” said Becker.
She estimated that it costs the food bank around $250 to feed a household of four. She emphasized that many of the households served are multi-generational with more than four residents in the house. Becker was surprised as she took over the food bank to realize the amounts of grandparents and aunts and uncles caring for their grandchildren and adult children with families of their own still living under their parents’ roof.
Becker credited the source of finding this information and the demographics being served to a new software program she has installed called Empower. The software allows the food bank to better track visits to the Monte Vista Emergency Food Bank and other food banks of the Food Bank Network of the San Luis Valley.
Becker explained that the food bank allows six visits per year. This does not include special holiday give outs for Thanksgiving and Christmas. “We always make sure everyone gets a little extra for Christmas and Thanksgiving,” she said. Becker also stated at the city council meeting that after clients have used up their six visits per year in Monte Vista, they are allowed to go to the food bank in Alamosa for additional help. In a short question and answer session with Councilor Kathy Ellithorpe, who helped develop some hunger prevention programs in the Monte Vista School District, Becker stated she has further options for people in emergency situations who have used all of their resources and that she has stock of instant potatoes she can provide.
Becker is predicting that in a short amount of time, food costs for the organization may increase by 20 to 40 percent. If this happens it may force less food to be given. “This could be crippling for most of our families, as they are forced with higher living costs. Imagine if you will, being forced to make the choice between feeding your family and paying your utility bill, feeding your family or putting gas in your vehicle to get to your job.”
Becker ended her presentation by asking the council for support and also making an announcement requesting that community members donate items or make monetary contributions if possible. Some common items the food bank uses that can be donated are tomato sauce, tuna, cereal, oatmeal, canned vegetables, canned fruit, ramen noodles, macaroni and cheese, soup, rice, flour, cooking oil, sugar, snack foods, lard, coffee, baby food, hygiene items, blankets, bed pillows, coats, children’s books, stuffed animals and toys. The food bank asks that used items be gently used and in good clean condition.
“I leave you with this simple, but powerful quote from Mother Teresa, ‘If you can’t feed 100 people then just feed one.”
The council unanimously approved a donation of $500 to the Monte Vista Emergency Food Bank with a stipulation that more may be given if the need arises and the city government is in a position to do so. Mayor Dale Becker abstained from the vote due to being Jennifer’s spouse.
Becker plans food drives in the future to further benefit the food bank and its clients. To donate or become involved, please visit Jennifer Becker at the Monte Vista Emergency Food Bank at 245 Washington Street.
Editor’s Note: At the Thursday, June 6 meeting, Jennifer Becker stated in a video recorded session that clients may visit the food bank six times per year in Monte Vista and be allowed additional help from the Alamosa food bank once they have used up their times in Monte Vista. However, anyone utilizing the Monte Vista Emergency Food Bank is advised to seek further explanation and clarification from Becker or present food bank volunteers. Several community members allege, as well as an independent verification by Valley Publishing, that the Empower Software referenced by Becker is counting visits to the Alamosa food bank as part of the original six visits in Monte Vista. Several community members and their children have been observed being denied food at the Monte Vista location due to visits to Alamosa being tracked by the software.