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In Cortez, the Good Samaritan Food Center helps combat hunger

 Volunteers Carol Westphal and Gary Muff help stock shelves at the Good Samaritan Food Center.
Chris Clements / KSJD
Volunteers Carol Westphal and Gary Muff help stock shelves at the Good Samaritan Food Center.

In Cortez, the Good Samaritan Food Center helps fight hunger in the Four Corners region.

“Food banks are really important in order for me to get the proper nutrition,” said Rob, who asked that we only use his first name.

He's one of many who are visiting the Good Samaritan Food Center to get food for themselves or their families.

“Without the support that this facility provides, life would be much more complicated than it already is,” he said.

Inside the Good Samaritan it's warm, and people are busy shopping.

Carol Westphal, a volunteer at the pantry, said that hunger in Cortez today is mostly about a basic lack of food and proper nutrition.

“It looks like people just need normal, everyday food, nothing fancy. Just rice, beans – I’m surprised at how many people look around and go, ‘Oh, I can make this and this and this,’” she said. “And they know how to cook and make something, they just don’t have the means for it.”

Westphal, who’s been volunteering at the Good Samaritan for over a year, said she’s noticed an increase in shoppers since she started.

“We are feeding more people,” she said. “And there’s a lot of people who are incredibly grateful out there, who are thankful for us simply for getting the staples that they need.”

The USDA defines food insecurity as a lack of access to enough food for every person in a household to live a healthy life.

According to the Food Bank of the Rockies, in Colorado and Wyoming, the number of individuals estimated to be food insecure in 2021 was 1 in 8.

For children, that number was even higher: 1 in 7.

Meanwhile, the need for donations to the food pantry has also risen stubbornly since the COVID-19 pandemic first started.

“So what I would share with people is that it's much worse than it was during COVID, we're seeing a much higher need,” said Kirbi Foster, the director of the Good Samaritan Food Center. “The impacts that started a couple of years ago have just compounded with situations, you know, in the world, the war, supply chain, inflation. A lot of things are coming together and working in concert to make things very difficult for people.”

Foster, who used to shop at the Good Samaritan herself, said the biggest misconception people have in terms of hunger and its effects on Cortez residents is that it’s a personal failing.

“And it's really a systemic problem,” she said. “It's not due to individual choices, or lack of skill or lack of, you know, wherewithal, or whatever people might assume about hunger, it's – everyone is doing the very best they can and the system is causing a lot of struggle for folks.

Foster also said that she often sees volunteers shopping at the Center and vice versa.

“It's very reciprocal, you know, we get people who volunteer and shop and shop and volunteer and give what they can, and that's the part I love about this pantry is the reciprocity in the community, and being able to be a source of that reciprocity for people to access,” she said. “You know, it's, it's important. We're a small community and we're kind of isolated geographically and we appreciate everybody stepping up, but also, we need some help.”

The reciprocal nature of this food pantry, where volunteers are also customers, means there's a deep level of understanding for those relying on its services.

This is something that's not lost on community members like Rob.

“I find that the management here has a heart for the people, to provide, and they do,” he said. “I see it as a gift from above. And I don't take advantage of it. I utilize it to the fullest of its potential. I like to give back, but right now, I need to take.”
Copyright 2023 KSJD. To see more, visit KSJD.

Chris Clements