Pine River Shares in Bayfield gave away more free Thanksgiving dinner boxes this week than it has in recent memory.
Pine River Shares, a grassroots nonprofit that focuses some of its efforts on food access, handed out up to 200 dinner boxes and helped more than 500 Pine River Valley residents have food for the holiday. The increased numbers could be a sign of increased food insecurity in the area, volunteers said.
“(We) think this is the biggest event that we’ve done, I mean ever,” said Paul Pavich, a Pine River Shares volunteer, on Tuesday while packing boxes to deliver to members of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.
The annual event started in 2013.
About 20 volunteers from the Bayfield Wolverine Academy, an alternative education program; Fort Lewis College; the Pine River Valley Rotary Club; and Energy Inspection Services also rushed to pack and hand out enough boxes for a long line of vehicles Monday, Pavich said.
The event was a drive-thru operation with masked volunteers to reduce potential transmission of the coronavirus during the pandemic, he said.
Colorado Springs Care and Share, a food bank, donated about 100 turkeys and 150 turkey breasts for the event. Community members and organizations donated other items, like cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, potatoes and other traditional Thanksgiving foods.
“I feel like the community is starting to get the sense that if they need anything, they know they can come to Pine River Shares instead of having to struggle or be afraid to ask,” said Alonso Dominguez, 17, a Wolverine Academy student.
Pavich and Dominguez said they have heard about food insecurity caused by the financial impacts brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
When Pavich was volunteering one day, a man and his daughter stopped by the nonprofit.
“He said, ‘I’ve never experienced anything like this before in my life. ... I’m out of work, and I’ve never had to ask anyone for food,’” Pavich said.
Dominguez said his friends and other community members have struggled to buy food for their families and pets – particularly pet food, which can be too expensive to afford.
“Especially with the COVID crisis, not a lot of things will be on the shelf. ... Without our help, people wouldn’t be able to get what they need,” Dominguez said. “It teaches me not to be scared to seek help, because when you do, you’ll meet very, very good people.”
In July, a Hunger Free Colorado survey of 500 Coloradans found that about one in three are worried about hunger or could not buy all the food that was needed.
In November, about one in 10 households were not getting enough to eat in Colorado and nationwide, according to a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
In the past, those figures have fluctuated in different parts of Colorado, particularly rural areas. The Colorado Health Institute found that about 16% of Southwest Coloradans experienced food insecurity in 2019.
“There’s so many food insecure people now that I think most of us feel this is a really important part of our lives,” Pavich said.