The holidays of Passover and Easter bring many people around the table for celebratory meals and fellowship. But for many in Denver, food is getting scarcer.
On April 6, Denverites from all walks of life quietly lined up in front of Bienvenidos Food Bank in Sunnyside. They gathered to receive fresh vegetables, meats, and canned goods that were donated from the community.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, increased allowances to the maximum benefits for all recipients. With the pandemic considered “over,” in March, SNAP withdrew these additional allowances. With the current state of the economy and national food prices up by 6%, many people relying on SNAP benefits are feeling the pinch of these allowance cuts. For places like Bienvenidos, it means longer lines.
“This place is a blessing. Absolute blessing. All these places are. There would be a lot more hungry people out there without them,” said Melissa Martinez, who is an 8th-generation Denverite and has been collecting commodities from places like Bienvenidos since she was a child.
Bienvenidos Food Bank has been giving to the people of northwest Denver for over 46 years, starting in 1976 through the St. Patrick’s Action Center as well as the Northwest Family Assistance Center. Greg Pratt has been the executive director at Bienvenidos for a decade. Due to the cutback of SNAP allowances, the food bank is scrambling to adjust.
“It’s huge. Right now we are seeing a 40-50% increase in clients just in this year. In addition to overall clients, we are seeing an increase in first-time clients,” Pratt said.
Pratt and the Bienvenidos team collect food donations from a few important donors, specifically local grocery stores and corporate programs like the Food Bank of the Rockies. Lately, Pratt has dealt with an increasingly difficult situation in which food is just not coming into the bank like it used to before the pandemic hit. He thinks it could be a lasting effect of COVID’s impact on supply chains, unemployment rates and changing business models inside the grocery industry.
“We are really in a scramble to get food,” Pratt said.
SNAP allocates around $200 per individual in a household, but during the pandemic, these funds increased by around 50-80%. Vivian, who chose to keep her last name confidential, receives SNAP benefits and has been coming to Bienvenidos every three months for the past several years. The increased benefits allowed her to afford a healthy diet during the pandemic, but the new cuts have brought challenges.
“Oh, it’s definitely affecting me,” Vivian said. “During the pandemic, they brought my allowance up to $394 and now it’s back down to $200. I basically have to eat cereal four times a week. But you know, I make it work. This place gives me some variety, but I don’t want to take away from somebody who needs it more than me or who has kids. This ties me over, I survive.”
Around 295,000 households rely on SNAP in Colorado alone, which leaves more than 554,000 Colorado citizens struggling with the impact of this change. With the return to regular benefits, Bienvinedos and other food banks in the area are a huge help to the community. With their assistance, Denverites who collect SNAP benefits are able to supplement their weekly food spending.
Bienvenidos client Brian Hewlett is a professor of social sciences at the Community College of Denver. The school didn’t renew his contract for the spring semester, and with the reduction in benefits, Bienvendios has been able to allow him to cut down on the cost of food in a time when money is tight.
“I used to live right by here and volunteered a few times at Bienvenidos before. It’s helpful now to supplement the cost of my food and really cut down on what I am spending on my EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer),” said Hewlett.
Clients who utilize Bienvenidos Food Bank’s services say they truly make an impact in the community. But with current events, the food bank is struggling to function with ease. Greg Pratt, the team at Bienvenidos, and clients can use all the help they can get. They say any donation is greatly appreciated.