There is one good thing about Covid-19.
“It’s made people much more aware of hunger, and our community has really stepped up and been so generous,” said Bev Angehrn, president of the board of the Ouray County Food Pantry.
The generosity has taken many forms, and come from many places. Individuals — and community organizations, and churches — have offered gifts of money, and comestibles. Both Mountain Market in Ridgway, and Ouray Grocery, have donated food.
“Mountain Market started a new program where they’ve been giving each client (of the food bank) a voucher for specific products each week,” Angehrn said, “as well as a $10 gift certificate for meat and produce. The owners,” Darin and Valerie Hill of Ridgway, “have been very generous ever since the beginning of Covid.”
Locals have also offered the gift of time: the pantry’s staff is entirely unpaid.
“Right now, we’re doing well when it comes to volunteers,” Angehrn said. “We’ve gotten several new ones in the last 5-6 months. Before, we had a few ‘snowbirds’ who would leave for the winter. Now, everyone’s sticking around.”
Looking back, “We’ve had some very lean times in our nine years of existence,” Angehrn summed up, but as it stands, “We’re really doing pretty well. I’m very proud. We’re not worried,” she added wryly, “where our next meal is coming from.”
That said, there is something that concerns Angehrn. The pantry requires a permanent home.
“Over the last several years, the pantry has had to relocate,” she explained, “and each time has been more difficult than the last.”
As real estate prices have been rising, some local food suppliers have begun disappearing altogether. “Christ Kitchen in Montrose served lunches for years,” Angehrn noted. “They’ve lost their lease.”
“We’ve talked about needing to find a permanent home for the Ouray food pantry for years,” she added. A food pantry has specific requirements: it needs to be ADA-compliant; should offer easy access to downtown Ouray or Ridgway (so its patrons don’t have to travel too far to reach it), “and needs to take the rest of the community into account,” Angehrn added. For example, “We’re not going to put a food bank right next door to a restaurant.”
“Four times, we’ve gotten close to making a move” on a suitable property, Angehrn recalled, “but in each case, by the time we did so, the property was gone. Things are selling that fast.” And so, the food pantry is laying the financial groundwork for its relocation. “We’ve established a Capital Campaign through Citizens State Bank,” Angehrn said. “We’ve made the decision to lease this space” — just around the corner from the Shell Station, on Highway 62 in Ridgway, “through April. After that, we will be renting month-to-month.”
Rising real estate prices have complicated the task of finding an affordable place, but also made it more urgent than before.
“We’re concerned. It’s clear there will always be a need for food assistance,” Angehrn noted (perhaps more than ever, as housing prices go up). Although the pantry’s requirements are specific, in another sense it isn’t picky.
“The property could be either a parcel of land that we would put a prefab structure on, or a building,” Angehrn said. “We think it’s critical to move, so we can assure our presence in the community” for years to come.
The Ouray County Food Pantry is open every Thursday from 12:30-3:30 P.M. The pantry gratefully accepts donations of food (donation boxes are located at the Ridgway Post Office, and in the Ouray Grocery). Monetary donations may be made securely at ouraycountyfoodpantry.org or by mailing a check to OCFP, P.O. Box 903, Ridgway, CO 81432. When it comes to offers of land or property, “It would be appropriate to have a private conversation,” Angehrn said, by phoning 970-626-5872 or 626-4273.