Douglas County food banks ask for help

Many are seeing their demand surge and their supply diminish

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The COVID-19 pandemic is driving the demand for food services up while simultaneously strangling the supply. That's why food banks in Douglas County are reaching out to the community, asking for help as they struggle to feed those in need.

Food banks in the county have reported a roughly 400% increase in demand for food compared to the same time period last year, according to a statement from the county.

“People have lost income, people have lost jobs,” said Diane Roth, volunteer spokeswoman for the Parker Task Force. “People can no longer afford to go to the grocery store so they come to us.”

The Parker Task Force, which normally has eight community food drives per year to keep their supply full, had to cancel their April event.

“Usually we get one to two months of supply when we do one,” Roth said.

Now, they're relying on residents and community groups checking out the food bank's website to see what items they need and bringing them in, she said.

The Help and Hope Center, which mainly serves Douglas County, has also seen its supply of food dwindle. About 90% of their food supply comes from grocery store donations. With many people stocking up and leaving grocery shelves empty, there isn't as much food for donation, said executive director Dan Marlow.

“At King Soopers or Sam's Club we typically get two to three pallets of food. ... (But) there have been days when we literally get nothing,” Marlow said.

The Help and Hope Center usually supplements their supply by purchasing food from the Food Bank of the Rockies, where they can get a significant discount on items. This drives their costs higher and higher, though, as they spend more money to make up for lost donations. 

“We typically have a month or two of food on hand, so we've been able to keep up with demand so far,” he said. 

While many think of Douglas County as an exclusively affluent community, area food banks see another side to that story. The Parker Task Force, which serves Parker, Franktown and Elizabeth, served about 1,059 families in 2019. 

The Help and Hope Center, which also provides aid in Elbert County, served 20,432 people last year with more than 90% coming from Douglas County.

In Douglas County, “if someone gets laid off or goes through a divorce or illness or has some kind of crisis, cost of housing is really high so they get in trouble quick,” Marlow said. “We look at ourselves as an emergency room for people in financial crises.”

Most people who use the center's services only use it four or fewer times, Marlow said. 

The best way for residents to help food banks varies from center to center. At the Parker Task Force, volunteers are asking for food or financial donations. At the Help and Hope Center, the team is mainly looking for financial support and volunteers.

“The same $20 someone would spend on groceries, we can buy significantly more than that at the Food Bank of the Rockies,” Marlow said. 

Roth worries that as the pandemic rages on, the struggles food banks are facing now will only increase.

“People are going to need food banks and support resources for some time as a result of the current situation,” she said. “The need is not going to diminish, the need is going to grow.”

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