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DINOSAUR I Sometimes getting help can be the stimulus to pay it forward down the line.
That’s what happened to Dinosaur resident Valerie Page, who left Rapid City, S.D, in February with 17-year-old daughter Makayla to come to Colorado. The circumstances of their move forced them to arrive in Dinosaur with almost nothing.
That first winter month, Valerie and Makayla lived with friends. When they finally found an apartment to rent, they had few of the necessities to start a home.
“We didn’t have much; not even a couch or beds,” Page said. “It was only through the grace of our neighbors that we got help. People would say, ‘We happen to have extra plates’ or someone would come by: ‘We have some extra eggs. Here you go.’”
Neighbors’ generosity got Page thinking about ways to give back. People she’d met in Rangely linked her to the Rangely Food Bank, where she and Makayla started volunteering each week. There, she connected with food bank director Darlene Feller, board member and volunteer Paula Davis, and other workers.
“It was a great experience,” said Page, who still helps in Rangely when she can. “We wanted to associate ourselves with good people and give back to the community.”
Even as she spent time at the Rangely Food Bank, Page was increasingly aware that many Dinosaur residents had material needs, many of them urgent. A brief stint working at the Loaf ‘n’ Jug had brought that home.
“I’d see kids coming into the store and literally counting out change to buy milk,” Page said. “Or as moms were counting out quarters to pay for gas, kids would tell them, ‘Mom, I’m hungry.’ It was definitely a visual wake-up call.”
It wasn’t long before Page began talking with Davis and Feller about a food bank in Dinosaur, one that could be umbrellaed by the Rangely non-profit and partially supported by income from a thrift store.
Feller and Davis encouraged the venture. The food bank, along with Rangely Victim Services, helped front some of the deposit money to secure the store’s location, a vacant space next to the Loaf ‘n’ Jug that formerly housed an adult video store. Once the Pages had cleaned the facility and ensured tax and legal requirements were in place, the Dinosaur Community Thrift Store and Food Bank opened for business in June.
The food bank’s premise is simple: have residents fill out an application and, once month, collect a box filled with non-perishable food. If people are short on diapers or potatoes or milk, then the food bank will meet those needs — and ask that those benefiting from the bank or thrift store give an hour in volunteer work, whether at the store or for a neighbor or friend.
“People are doing it,” Page said. “This summer, we had kids come in whose parents received a box and say, ‘Hey, I mowed my neighbor’s yard last week!’”
While Page has met people who have taken unfair advantage of the venture, she says those few are outweighed by the support from Dinosaur, Rangely, and Vernal residents. Help comes in different forms — from Robert and Jack Essex’s donation of a freezer full of meat last week to Dinosaur and Vernal businesses holding food drives for the bank. Another Dinosaur resident, “Smitty,” recently gave $250 for the food bank’s Thanksgiving turkeys.
“Many of these people have lived here all their lives and have a real sense of community,” Page said. “I’m constantly surprised at their awareness when it comes to things like this.”
It’s a cycle that, so far, offers help where it’s most needed. Since June, the Food Bank has given 58 boxes of food to residents of Dinosaur, Skull Creek and Maybell, many of them single parents or the elderly.
The thrift store helped provide 14 school-aged children with clothing and shoes this fall. And volunteers have handed out nine “travel packs” to homeless hitchhikers passing through town.
“Their reaction is, ‘Why are you helping me? I don’t have money,’ Page said. “I tell them, ‘This isn’t about money. When you get where you’re going, do something for somebody else.’”
Bill Ormsby, 71, and a retired Dinosaur resident who receives a senior box each month, said the food bank and store is meeting critical needs in the community.
“Food is the biggest need; there are a lot of people who need it,” Ormsby said. “There’s a few who don’t. I’ve worked all my life and I’m still working. But the majority of the people need it.”
That the thrift store and food bank are having an impact community-wide doesn’t mean the venture is without challenges.
Although Page can currently meet monthly expenses given donations and thrift store sales, some months have been touch and go. Page hopes she’ll be able to get the store’s heating fixed or electricity costs from space heaters could soar. And with Valerie working near full-time at the Uintah County Jail and Makayla taking classes in Vernal, keeping the store open as often as they’d like means that they need more regular volunteers.
It’s all reason enough for the Pages and volunteer David Heilrich to take steps to keep the food bank and thrift store stable, like beginning the application process to become an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit, a move that would render it eligible for local and statewide grants.
Page also hopes to attract monthly sponsors and pursue Moffat County support.
Now, six months in, Page is glad she’s taken on the extracurricular work, though she admits it can feel like a lot.
“It feels manageable to a point,” Page said. “I have some days where I shake my head and think, ‘What did I get myself into?’”
Most days, though, she is reminded of the stories that matter, like the little girl who needed school shoes this fall. Page, on a hunch, went to the store and found a like-new pair that fit.
“It was like, ‘Hey, she has new shoes!’ Those moments make it all worthwhile,” she said.
The store accepts food, clean clothing, furniture and baby, household, and hygiene items during its open hours on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. It is also open Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sundays from 1 to 6 p.m.
During the holidays, donors can bring canned goods, other non-perishable items and freezer food to drop-off sites at Dinosaur’s Christy’s Liquor, Gateway Conoco and the Highway Bar & Grill.
The Rangely Food Bank at 204 E. Rio Blanco Ave. accepts donations for Dinosaur on Wednesdays from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., with other Rangely drop-off sites planned for the holiday season.
For current information about hours, sales and needs, including information about Christmas box applications and the need for box sponsors, “like” the Dinosaur Community Food Bank and Thrift Store page on Facebook.