MONTROSE – By the end of this year, Sharing Ministries Food Bank will have given away one million pounds of food in five Western Slope counties.
With only one employee, Director Oneda Doyal, scores of volunteers work every day to pack up boxes of food that will go to hundreds of families, primarily through other nonprofits in Montrose, San Miguel, Ouray, Delta and Gunnison counties.
The food bank provides food for about 3,500 people each month, Doyal said, but that number has grown to 4,400 with the holidays approaching.
Although the organization has been in existence since 1996, the numbers of families needing food is increasing at an alarming rate, she said, with 30 new families each month applying for free food. Doyal said not enough people know about Sharing Ministries, both those who need help and those who can give it.
“A lot of people needing help and needing to donate don’t know we’re here,” she said.
But Sharing Ministries’ 3,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution center at 121 N. Rio Grande Ave., was swarming with people earlier this week. Distribution Manager Roger Hart oversaw about thirty people who were at various tasks, sorting, stacking and labeling food products, while volunteers in the front office answered phones, worked on computers and attached mailing labels.
Another 20 “volunteers” came in mid-morning, all kindergarten students at Colorado West Christian School, who learned from Doyal what the food bank does and helped out by putting packets of crackers in baggies and measuring out cupfuls of dried beans.
Doyal got the kids started on their projects, and said all volunteers are welcome.
“We have volunteers of all ages, from 4 to 91,” she said. “We work with Community Options, but also with individuals and sometimes whole families. It’s run entirely by volunteers, except for me.”
The food bank has many vital corporate partnerships also, she said, including both City Market stores in Montrose, the Montrose Walmart, Safeway stores in Montrose and Delta, and all the local bakeries. The Department of Wildlife also donates meat, she said.
Although a lot of food is donated, most of it is bought fresh by Sharing Ministries, Doyal said, as she gave a tour of the building.
First stop was out back, where six large truck trailers provide cool, dry storage for fresh produce, baked and other dry goods. Along the back of the building is a 30-foot long freezer for fresh meats, and inside are walls of storage shelves and two large freezers donated by the Adolph Coors Co.
The nonprofit also has a new novel and sustainable way of acquiring food, by buying young piglets that volunteers then raise at their homes on leftovers from the food bank.
“When they get to a certain weight, we take them to Kinikin (Processing) and make sausage,” she said.
Another sustainable practice is to get free eggs from people who feed their chickens food bank baked goods that have gone bad and are inedible for humans.
“We recycle whenever we can,” Doyal said.
According to the Montrose School District, more than 200 children are registered as homeless this year, the highest number ever. That’s reflective of what local families are going through, Doyal said, due mainly to job losses caused by the bad economy.
Sharing Ministries is trying to meet the increasing need for food in this area with a letter inserted in local newspapers this week asking people to donate to help alleviate hunger that Doyal calls “a harsh reality for many children, families and seniors in our communities.”
Many times, struggling families must choose between medicine or food, or school clothes or food, Doyal says, but the food bank gives them a break on groceries by supplying three meals for three days each month to every member of the family.
As food comes in, it is weighed and sorted into baskets of food for one, two, three or five people. A family of 10 will get two of the five-person baskets, Doyal said.
The food bank was started by four members of the Rosemont Baptist Church back in 1996, she said, but is totally non-denominational. Sharing Ministries exists solely to supply free food to those in need and works with any other agency that is registered as a 501(3)c nonprofit, Doyal said.
The Montrose food bank buys much of its food from the Rocky Mountain Food Bank, as do other agencies that use Sharing Ministries as a distribution center.
“Our volunteers and forklifts load it onto their trucks and trailers,” Doyal said. Sharing Ministries also uses its own trucks to distribute food to other communities.
People who qualify to receive free food can come to the food bank from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday. Donations of food (or money) are accepted six days a week, Monday through Saturday, from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Doyal said many people help support the food bank, but local churches are among the biggest contributors. She hopes that more individuals and businesses will recognize the needs of hungry families and help meet the need to feed them not only during the holidays but all year long.
“Come Jan. 1, people are still hungry,” she said.
Donations can be mailed to Sharing Ministries, 121 N. Rio Grande, Montrose, CO, 81401. To learn more, volunteer, donate, or apply for food, call 240-8385.