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Op-Ed: With our ski resort closed, we’re working at a food bank and feeling all the emotions

Bags of food await distribution at a food bank in Basalt, Colo., operated by the  events team from the local ski resort.
(Anna Stonehouse)

A couple of football fields’ worth of cars typically arrive an hour early to the Basalt, Colo., food bank. Before noon, we start slinging bags: potatoes, sauerkraut, Chips Ahoy, Pop-Tarts, Triscuits, pasta and, oddly, some pimentos and the occasional banana Moon Pie, perhaps to say: “Things aren’t entirely desperate yet.”

But many are clearly struggling. There is a woman on oxygen in a classic, but 30-year-old, Ford Ranger; a ragged elderly couple in worn, dirty clothes who’d fit in on “Breaking Bad.” Entire families are squash-packed into cars, coming together as if this were a wedding. A father who asks me, angrily: “Is that all? I have four people in my family.” Imagine how hard it is, how hurtful to one’s pride, to get in a food line. Imagine then asking for more.

I give him a second bag.

I hear a million “thank you’s.” My responses aren’t great. “Hang in there.” “You’re welcome.” Awkwardly: “Thank YOU!”

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We run out of meat. We run out of baby food. One woman returns because her baby doesn’t take formula and she “didn’t want to take it from somebody else.” I wipe the bottle with disinfectant, then give it to another mom.

In our “Dispatches From the Pandemic” series, we bring you personal stories from people whose lives have been altered by COVID-19.

I’m an office guy, and this is the hardest I’ve worked in a decade, if only for an hour and a half this day. Even though it is blustery and rainy, a classic Colorado spring, I am down to a T-shirt that I sweat through as I fill orders — add a bag of oranges, a bag of apples, a pound of hamburger and get the bag onto the table. Thumbs up from my blue-gloved hands, and the next car rolls in. It’s hard to feed a community. It’s hard, you know, when society collapses.

The workers and organizers are the corona-idled events team from the local ski resort — they get supplies from Food Bank of the Rockies. They typically host concerts in downtown Aspen and rowdy Bud Light-sponsored ski-jumping extravaganzas. Their event-planning skills transfer perfectly; a pivot from delivering pure entertainment to pure altruism. One manager rolls by on a mini-forklift, driving it like a go-cart.

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A longtime waitress at a local tavern stops to say hi from six feet away. Forced to shelter in place, she says she noticed something that would have perhaps gone unseen: a tree, fallen in her boyfriend’s yard. The trunk was filled with honey.

When our ski slopes and towns are again packed with carefree revelers, and even when we are older, we’ll remember the unique, closely observed world of COVID-19, when we had time to taste honey from a fallen tree. We’ll recall those cold spring mornings, when handing bags of oddly assorted food to gracious but hungry neighbors in a bitter rain was the greatest expression of love we had known.

Auden Schendler is senior vice president of sustainability at Aspen Skiing Company.


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