Boulder County food assistance programs are facing mounting shortages, as supply chain issues and increased demand make it difficult to offer a full variety of nutritious meals to residents in need.
While these organizations say they will still be able to provide their services to families, and aren’t at risk of shutting down, many are turning to the community for help keeping shelves stocked.
“It’s tight in the food banks right now and our community has always stepped up for people in need,” said Julie Van Domelen, executive director of the Emergency Family Assistance Association (EFAA) in Boulder. “We just want to let people know this would be a great time to drop off food donations.”
EFAA, and other Boulder food banks, receive their food from a range of sources, including donations from individuals, grocery stores, larger food banks and purchased food items that are harder to come by.
Van Domelen said resources began to dwindle in early June, but the factors driving the shortages have happened incrementally. She said the combination of inconsistent deliveries and rising costs of food have made it hard to fill shelves, while the number of people visiting EFAA’s food bank has dramatically increased.
“A lot of folks who were able to make ends meet [in the past] are struggling, so finding their way to food assistance is important at this time,” Van Domelen said.
Right now, more than 400 families visit the EFAA food bank each week, far more than the 350 that shopped there in the entire month of January.
EFAA isn’t the only organization affected by these issues. Van Domelen said the shortages are systemic, impacting food assistance programs all over Boulder County.
Suzanne Crawford, chief executive officer of the Sister Carmen Community Center in Lafayette, said as many as 80 households have been visiting the food bank per day in recent weeks, compared to an approximate average of 30 earlier in the year.
Crawford said Sister Carmen is still able to provide food to families, even though the variety is now limited.
“We do have food available but we don’t necessarily have the choice,” Crawford said.
According to Crawford, while there are unique factors impacting what food banks are currently able to provide to residents, there are also predictable hurdles to overcome. The lack of donations food banks receive in the summer compared to holiday months in the fall and winter is one of them.
“During the summer, people are busy. They’re typically not thinking about [other] people’s food needs,” she said. “Right now that is more concerning than it normally would be. Because with inflation and the number of people coming through the food bank, we actually need more food, not less.”
Farmers to the rescue
But there’s a silver lining for food banks this summer. While donations might be down, the season brings more fresh produce from local farmers.
“One of the best parts about this situation is that it’s happening in the summer and that’s when we typically have the most produce because we get to work with local farms and gardeners,” said Frankie Ryder, marketing and communications manager for Community Food Share in Louisville, the regional food bank serving Boulder and Broomfield counties. The organization gets its food, including produce, from suppliers in bulk.
Ryder said grocery stores and food distributors have had trouble with their supply chains, which impacts the number of unwanted products they can donate. Those supply chain issues are primarily limiting the availability of non-perishable proteins and frozen meat, items Community Food Share orders by the truckload for distribution.
“We have had supply chain issues throughout the pandemic, just like everyone has, but it’s really much more noticeable at this point,” Ryder said. “As soon as we can get back to being able to provide our participants and partners with all the foods that they want, the happier we’ll be.”
These supply chain snarls trickle down to organizations like EFAA and Sister Carmen, which receive a large portion of their food from Community Food Share. Walter O’Toole, the food bank manager for EFAA, said the current shortages are the worst he’s seen since starting in his position at the food bank last year. But he believes this challenging period is only temporary. Based on conversations with other organizations, he hopes the issues facing local food banks should be resolved by August.
Additionally, the organization’s Colorado Food Pantry Assistance Grant, which expired in June, is set to be renewed in the fall and will help EFAA continue to purchase food to fill shelves. The grant program, created with funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act in 2020, gave $600,000 to 123 local food banks across the state.
“We’re hoping by the end of the summer things can return a little bit more to normal,” O’Toole said.
How you can help
In the meantime, food assistance programs are continuing to look for community support to fill the gaps. O’Toole said residents who are looking to get involved should consider starting a food drive within their communities, or donate as an individual or household.
“[A food drive] is a really great way to get your community involved, whether that’s your faith, organization, or your place of employment,” he said.
Those who may need additional food assistance can use Community Food Share’s interactive food finder map to locate nearby food banks.
Emergency Family Assistance Association (EFAA)
1575 Yarmouth Ave.
The EFAA food bank is requesting donations that generally include pantry staples and frozen proteins, such as:
- Canned fruits and vegetables
- Canned proteins (tuna and peanut butter)
- Ready to eat meals
- Frozen meats
Sister Carmen Community Center Food Bank
655 Aspen Ridge Dr.
In addition to toiletries and other household necessities — including diapers and baby formula — Sister Carmen is looking for a variety of food items, including:
- Gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan food options
Community Food Share
650 S. Taylor Ave.
Since Community Food Share is a regional food bank that distributes its food to smaller assistance programs, it purchases or receives food as donations from large suppliers. Community Food Share asks for monetary donations to continue purchasing bulk food items.