“Lift-Up is a treasure,” said Interim Executive Director John Dougherty in a recent interview. “It has been one of the most robust and rapid evolutions of an organization that has really been about hearing what the community needs, engaging with our partners and figuring out the best strategy to move forward.”
Dougherty would know. He’s made a career of assisting human service organizations with many types of transitions. Soon, Lift-Up will announce the name of its new executive director. Dougherty will remain onboard for a few more months, to ensure that things go smoothly.
The hiring of a new executive director comes with other good news. Lift-Up’s “pantry-of-choice” in Carbondale will reopen on Aug. 16. The reopening of pantry locations in Glenwood Springs and Rifle will follow in September.
The pantry option allows food recipients to choose from items displayed on shelves instead of grabbing a pre-packed supply of goods at drive-through locations, a system that became the norm after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. Each guest is given a point allocation to spend while “shopping” at the pantry. Foods with a greater nutritional value cost fewer points than items that are less nutritious.
“Our pantry clients are so excited to return to our pantry-of-choice,” said Carbondale volunteer pantry manager Glee Doyle. “Many have missed the social interaction and comfort of seeing the familiar and caring faces of our volunteer pantry crew.”
Last year, Lift-Up pivoted operations to meet the unprecedented challenges presented by COVID-19. During the height of the crisis, the organization saw a 600% increase in local food insecurity. To guard against the virus, the organization shifted to mobile food distribution which, by popular demand, will remain an option throughout the valley.
Eighteen months into the pandemic experience, Lift-Up continues to adapt according to the needs of its communities. The organization has made a concerted effort to solicit feedback from partners and clients. This resulted in more late afternoon and early evening hours and the addition of Saturdays for food retrieval. Additionally, Lift-Up has added more culturally diverse food options while working toward accessible, equitable and sustainable food security.
“And it did, unfortunately, shine that spotlight on food insecurity…,” said Debbie Patrick, director of marketing and development. “A lot of people are one paycheck away from being in trouble.”
Fortunately, Lift-Up saw that people in need were more comfortable with reaching out. A stigma around receiving assistance that may have previously existed was swept aside by a situation in which everyone saw how things can change overnight.
Such a successful transition was not without help. “Our community and our partnerships have really stepped up during the pandemic,” said Lift-Up board president Anita Bineau. Lift-Up enjoys ample support from many governmental and nongovernmental organizations in the area.
Another silver lining is the expansion of Lift-Up’s Farm to Food Pantry program, providing local ranchers and farmers with upfront purchase commitments for fresh produce, dairy and meat to help persons in need with healthier and more diverse options.
To accommodate a greater commitment to fresh foods, Lift-Up’s Thrift Store in Parachute was retrofitted to expand the nonprofit’s warehouse and logistics capacity. Waldorf School on the Roaring Fork raised funds for a forklift to improve efficiency at the site. Funding is still needed for shelves, more refrigeration and palettes. Lift-Up also is working on getting additional refrigerated vehicles.
“This community is so supportive and so committed to taking care of each other,” Dougherty said.
The Extended Table program has moved back inside with either grab-and-go or buffet service five days a week in Glenwood Springs and two days a week in Rifle.
Lift-Up continues to listen closely to the communities it serves to inform the organization’s direction. In addition to seeking board members, the board has opened its programs and services committee and fundraising committee to community members interested in lending their experience.
“There’s always a need for more support and volunteers in the work that Lift-Up does,” Dougherty said.
The August Food Distribution Calendar is available at liftup.org