Why Sharon Plants it Forward

Plant it Forward - Fort Collins, COSharon works in the Social Sustainability Department for the City of Fort Collins. She has been involved in the Plant it Forward program from the very beginning and loves working on collaborative events and projects. She mentions, “I really like that people can participate and help a really good nonprofit without a lot of extra work.”

Plant it Forward is a partnership between the Gardens on Spring Creek and the Food Bank for Larimer County. All gardeners are invited to plant an extra row to fight hunger in our community. Share your bounty with children, families, and seniors in need of food assistance and help end hunger.

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Karen Plants it Forward… Will You?

Now that Karen, a long-time Fort Collins resident, is retired, she has more time to garden. And for the last few years, she’s shared her bounty with neighbors experiencing hunger through our Plant It Forward program. Plant It Forward, is a partnership between the Food Bank and the Gardens on Spring Creek, that encourages produce donations from backyard gardeners and local farms to help provide nutritious food to guests of the Food Bank. All community members are invited and challenged to plant an extra row in their garden; when crops are ready, donations – both large and small – are given to families, children, and seniors in our community.

When Karen retired, she began devoting more of her time to her love of gardening. Through her work with the Gardens on Spring Creek, she learned about Plant it Forward and immediately felt it was a natural fit for her passion for gardening and her desire to give back to the community that has given so much to her.  “I connected all the dots and recognized, I want to garden more. This program gives me a good reason to and it goes to a good cause. It is perfect for me.”

Since the beginning, Karen has been an amazing ambassador for the program. She began small and last summer, she was able to grow over 1,000 pounds of produce to donate to the Plant it Forward program. She uses her large garden plot to grow everything from early season crops of lettuce, peas, and spinach to squash, peppers, onions, beets, kale, and much more. She is also a Plant It Forward Champion, meaning she collects donations from gardeners in her neighborhood to drop off at the Food Bank.

Karen mentioned, “I am committed to my Fort Collins community; I just love this place. I always knew I could do more to give back and I wanted to do something that would make a difference. Combined with my passion for gardening, Plant it Forward is a great way for me to help those who are less fortunate.”

She wished more people knew about the program and how easy it is to participate. “Even if folks don’t have a big garden or extra produce to donate, every little bit helps.”

According to the USDA , “people who eat more vegetables and fruits as part of an overall healthy diet are likely to have a reduced risk of some chronic diseases.” Your donation will help feed neighbors in need leading to a healthier and more vibrant community for all. Plant it Forward is made successful by backyard gardeners of all levels and of all donation sizes coming together to fight hunger in our community. Karen Plants it Forward, will you? Click here to learn more about the program and how you, too, can participate.

 

Hunger Doesn’t End – Why Food Share Manager Works Hard Everyday

Food Bank for Larimer County Food Share Manager

Jan is the Fort Collins Food Share Manager at the Food Bank; every day she brings her infectious smile and warm hugs because she knows the face of hunger. “Jobs don’t pay enough and people just don’t have enough to afford to pay bills and feed their families. I’ve been there, my children have been there, my granddaughter is there. Hunger doesn’t end.”

She fights hunger by serving as the manager of  Fort Collins Food Share, a grocery store-like operation where people can come ‘shop’ for food, at no cost, when they struggle to have the resources to cover their basic needs. Her team is made up of two full-time employees and 6-8 volunteers, daily. Together they set up Food Share and manage the check-in and distribution process. She also trains volunteers and helps answer any guest questions about the process and available foods.

The Food Share program is one of the nation’s largest, client-choice, fresh food pantries. Jan and her team work to distribute fruits, vegetables, bread, meat, and dairy to over 14,000 residents each month. Individuals qualify for Food Share based on gross monthly income. The goal is to provide each person with enough food for at least one meal per day.

“My favorite part of my job has to be the children,” said Jan.  “I have had the opportunity to form many great relationships. I look forward to seeing them and I think they look forward to seeing me, too”. Regardless of age, Jan enjoys talking to all guests and knows hearing their stories is a great privilege. She’s proud of the report she and her team have been able to establish with many guests.  “An important part of my job is to recognize that we’re here to listen to what they have to say and hear their stories; it’s more than just giving them food.”

Another major facet of her job is customer service. Not only does she want every guest to find something they can eat, regardless of their cooking facilities, but also to feel welcome. “We want everyone to know that we’re happy they’ve come!”

Food Bank for Larimer County VolunteerIn Jan’s seven years at the Food Bank, she’s seen lots of changes, including a dramatic increase in need. Fortunately, food donations and community support have also increased. She’s also seen a focus on providing  fresh and nutritious foods to guests. She wishes people knew, “The Food Bank is not just about homeless people. Everyone should be aware that our services are for anyone; it’s for people who are struggling to feed themselves and their families.”

One of Jan’s most poignant stories from her time working in Food Share is of a little girl and her mom. The mother was in poor health and the girl was usually very hungry when they arrived. Jan always tried to make sure to get her something to eat while her mother shopped. One time, the girl said to Jan, “If something happens to my mom, you’ll be here to take care of me and my baby brother.”

As a result of stories like this and her daily interactions with guests, Jan feels very proud to be working in Food Share. She notes, “It’s great to know that most everyone is really grateful for our services. They all leave with a shopping cart full of food and a happy face.”

Buy tickets now for Front Range Rally 2017!

Front Range Rally 2017Front Range Rally is May 20! Now in its fifth year,  Front Range Rally is a beer festival and food truck rally that celebrates Colorado’s rich culture of craft brewing and myriad of mobile food vendors in our region. One hundred percent of the net proceeds from the festival will be given to the Food Bank to support our vision of a hunger-free Larimer county.

This year’s Front Range Rally will feature nearly 55 craft beverage makers that will serve over 150 unique beers, wines, ciders and spirits alongside ten local food truck favorites that will deliver an array of delicious fare. See the current list here. Live, local music will grace the stage to round out a perfect day of fun in the Colorado sun.

The Rally will take place Loveland Food Share, 2600 N. Lincoln, Loveland, CO from 2:30 – 7 PM on May 20th, 2017. Tickets are now on sale and can be purchased at www.FrontRangeRally.org.  Ticket includes admission to festival grounds, food trucks, live music, and UNLIMITED beer sampling. (Food is sold separately.) V.I.P. tickets and designated driver tickets are also available.

Don’t forget to invite your friends to the Rally!

 

Food Bank Announces Expansion Plans

After two years of study and planning, we have made the decision to expand our warehousing operations to increase capacity to store and distribute more food to meet growing demand in the community.  We’ve experienced a 50% increase in visits to our Food Share pantries since the Great Recession started in 2008. Over the last 8 months, in particular, we’ve seen record numbers of households visiting our Food Share Program where we are providing food for up to 2,000 individuals per day. The need in Larimer County is being driven by wages that have not kept up with the increasing cost of living. Monthly rents in the Fort Collins/Loveland area increased 41% between 2011 and 2016 to an average $1,273 per month1. For families with children, local childcare costs are among the highest in Colorado, which ranks 7th in the United States for most expensive infant care2   Additionally, more than 1 in 10 jobs pay less than $11.30 per hour3.

Today, the Food Bank for Larimer County serves approximately 84% of the 42,880 food insecure residents in Larimer County. Population growth projections alone require us to plan to serve more households into the future. That factor combined with the results of our Gap Analysis Study last year helped us establish an ambitious, but necessary goal to provide food for nearly 5 million more meals annually (based on 2015 numbers) by 2035 in order to achieve our vision of a hunger-free Larimer County. In 2016, we provided food for 7.6 million meals. We intend to grow that number to 12.2 million meals annually by 2035. However, our current facilities in Fort Collins and Loveland do not provide adequate storage space or infrastructure to keep pace with the growing demand or to meet future goals.

When we acquired our current location at 1301 Blue Spruce in 1987, we distributed less than 1 million pounds of food per year. Thirty years later, we are distributing more than 9 million pounds of food annually from the same distribution facility. Given that growth, you might expect that our current warehouse presents many challenges. First, the parking lot is too small to safely accommodate the large tractor-trailers that now deliver our food. This poses issues for our Food Share guests, volunteers, and staff as they navigate the parking lot. Additionally, we don’t have room to accept all of the donated food that is offered to us because we are out of space. This represents a lost opportunity to distribute more food. With space to store only about two weeks’ worth of food, we have a very small margin of safety for times when demand is high or donations are scarce. Freezer and cooler spaces are particularly limited, but we also have insufficient room for shelf-stable items.

We are currently under contract for space near the Fort Collins/Loveland Airport. The new building increases our capacity to store and distribute more food. Our initial plans call for a 618% increase in cooler and freezer spaces, 212% increase in the Community Kitchen footprint and a 3,700 square foot dedicated volunteer space. We will continue to operate our Food Share food pantry locations in Fort Collins and Loveland during and after the transition. The project is expected to be complete within the next 18 months.

Food Share Fort Collins

The Food Bank’s new warehouse will be used to expand storage capacity. Food Share, our client choice fresh food pantries in Loveland and Fort Collins, will remain open to continue to provide food assistance.

 

According to Amy Pezzani, CEO, Food Bank for Larimer County, “We are confident that the new facility addresses many of our current challenges and positions us to prepare to meet the need in our community for several decades to come.”

 

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1: First Quarter 2016 Colorado Multi-Family Housing Vacancy & Rental Survey sponsored by the Colorado Division of Housing
2: 2016 report by the Economic Policy Institute
3: Bureau of Labor Statistics data for May 2015

 

Volunteer Spotlight: Cheryl Schmidt

Food Bank for Larimer county VolunteerCheryl Schmidt has been a volunteer at the Food Bank for almost four years, putting in just over 400 hours so far. She began serving at the Food Bank for Larimer County when she moved to Fort Collins in 2013 and joined the Fort Collins Newcomers Club. This group volunteers collectively at the Food Bank once a month and Cheryl took this service opportunity to heart. Quickly thereafter, she started to contribute time outside the group by working in the Kid’s Cafe and later managing the Newcomers group. Recently, she began working two mornings a week in the Food Bank main office, as well.

When she’s volunteering at the Food Bank she does anything from stuffing envelopes, as pictured here, or baking muffins and packing snacks for kids. She mentioned she loves it all and is just happy to help.

Cheryl lived in the mountains prior to calling the Front Range home. She volunteered at the local food bank which offered mostly canned goods that guests could only pick up four times a year. Being a foodie herself, Cheryl notes, “I have soft spot for people who are hungry. So working at the Food Bank is a good fit for me, particularly the Kid’s Cafe because I love what they do and offer as far as feeding kids; it’s really just so impressive.”

She credits the mission of the Food Bank as her drive for continuing to volunteer. She loves, “Being able to contribute to a cause that I feel strongly about. Knowing all these kids are going to get to eat, have a snack; they’re not going to go home hungry.” That’s her reward for her hard work and she knows that part makes a big difference in the lives of children, seniors, and families living in hunger in our community.

Cheryl encourages everyone to take advantage of the free Food Bank tours, allowing them to, “See the operations in person to get an overview of what the Food Bank does. It’s huge! I just wish more people knew what the Food Bank does for our community.”

She concluded by saying, “I just love it, so glad I’m here to help!” The Food Bank is so thankful for the support of Cheryl and the thousands of other volunteers that lend a hand annually to help us achieve our mission of a hunger-free Larimer County.

Volunteer Spotlight: Joe Helm

Food Bank for Larimer County VolunteerApril is National Volunteer Month. This and every month, the Food Bank for Larimer County relies on the generous support and time volunteers provide. In 2016 alone, volunteers donated 37,900 hours to the Food Bank, an equivalent of 18 full-time staff members.

Joe Helm, pictured here with Food Share Manager, Jan Martin, began volunteering at the Food Bank in September 2015 and has already contributed 750 hours of service. He holds regular shifts in Food Link, Food Share, and the warehouse.

Prior to living in Fort Collins, Joe worked at the St. Mary’s Food Bank in Phoenix. When he moved to Colorado, he found the Food Bank for Larimer County and as he says, “the rest is history.” Joe believes, “The best part of volunteering for me is the interaction I have with the employees of the Food Bank, the other volunteers, the agencies, and people who take advantage of what the food bank has to offer.”

Joe contributes two shifts a week in the Food Share area, generally stocking bread.  He also works two shifts a week in the Food Link area sorting the deliveries and on Friday mornings, he offers his time in the warehouse helping to accomplish any tasks necessary.

“I believe we all have a responsibility to offer our talents and time to help others; now that I am pretty much retired, I have the time,” Joe said in explaining why he is so willing to help out at the Food Bank.  He went on to say,  “I am able to see the 350 to 450 people who come through the Food Share program every day and how it helps them.”

The Food Bank for Larimer County simply could not have as great an impact without the help and willingness of volunteers to support our mission. Interested in learning more about volunteering at the Food Bank for Larimer County? Click here!