By Cheryl Noble, Partnership For Age-Friendly Communities
The Red Feather Lakes area in northwest Larimer County consists of 400 square miles of rural area. Livermore, Glacier View, Cherokee Park, Crystal Lakes and Red Feather Lakes make up the mountain area. Residents give up conveniences, services and often family to enjoy the picturesque natural beauty, space, and for many, affordability.
In fall 2019, the Partnership For Age-Friendly Communities (PAFC) along with Senior Access Points and Larimer County’s Office on Aging was working on rural outreach to learn about aging in our rural communities. One of the groups was the North 40 Mountain Alliance (N40MA), a nonprofit that started from the High Park Fire in June 2012.
From a large community meeting in February 2020 conducted by PAFC, residents were eager to start working together on key issues that would enhance their rural lifestyle including transportation, caregiving, medical and connectivity. The next month we were all required to stay at home and life was put on hold.
Out of concern for the well-being of the mountain residents, an N40MA member sent out an email to local leaders asking if a food pantry would benefit the community. The North 40 Mountain Alliance took the lead since it was a nonprofit with a bank account to handle the funding. Seed money came from Morning Star Church and Chapel in the Pines, and the Larimer County Office on Aging soon followed with a $4,000 grant. In just three weeks and with a corps of volunteers and some money, the North 40 Food Pantry rolled out its first food distribution to over 100 households on April 3rd.
“As soon as word got out that this was evolving, we had residents coming forward to help,” said John Parker, N40MA board president.
There’s an unimaginable amount of work that goes into providing approximately 8,000 – 9,000 pounds of food for 100 households a week with about 90 pounds of food going to a family of two. “Every Wednesday there are six trucks and 12 volunteers that drive down the hill to the Larimer County Food Bank in Loveland,” said John.
Chapel in the Pines Church in Red Feather Lakes hosts the Friday distribution and has also donated half of their basement to store the dry food. Their oversized parking lot accommodates the long line of cars that are waiting before the doors open at 10:00 am. As a service industry community, most lost their jobs and became desperate. Many recipients are caregivers for a sick loved one and are unable to drive down the hill.
One caregiver who is a regular at the food pantry is Shirley who is 87 years old and lives in Glacier View. Her husband died in March after a long illness. She was his full-time caregiver and has had a difficult time adjusting to the loss of her spouse in the midst of the pandemic and worries about her own health. “The food pantry has been a life-saver for me,” said Shirley. “I don’t have to drive down into town and think about exposure to the virus,” she said.
As of July 3, the pantry served 1,221 households, 2,830 residents. There have been 89,939 pounds of food (45 tons) distributed. Thirty-four percent are aged 18-59 and 47% are sixty years old and older. Additionally, a second distribution point, with food from the weekly pick up, has started in Livermore to make it more convenient for residents in that area.
With numbers like that, it’s easy to understand that the pantry has provided a valuable service. The stories of hardship from COVID are plentiful. There are shut-ins, serious illnesses, older adults with mobility challenges, food insecurities, food shortages, job loss, little or no savings, homes lost, and no money for gas into town for doctors.
For Robert, a Crystal Lakes resident who lost his job in the restaurant business, the weekly pick up puts food on the table for his family of six plus they now come together to cook. “The pantry takes the stress off of how to feed my family and has also brought a new family activity as we minimize our exposure,” Robert said. “The pantry has saved us,” said Robert.
For more information on the North 40 Food Pantry and/or to volunteer or donate, go to: https://n40alliance.org/north-40-food-pantry/