Nine Ways to Give Back This Summer

Childhood Hunger - Food Bank for Larimer CountyIt’s finally summer — and while we’re excited for the lazy days ahead, for many kids summer is anything but carefree. For millions of kids, the end of school means the end of school meals that guarantee regular access to nutritious food. Childhood hunger affects as many as 1 in 3 kids in our community and this summer is no exception.

The good news is there’s a lot you and your family can do to help kids facing hunger this summer. In between the pool parties and summer getaways, find time to give back with these fun activities for your family.

  1. Get to know the need in your own community. Feeding America network food banks run amazing programs, from providing summer meals for kids to teaching healthy cooking classes to gathering unharvested crops from local farms. Join us for our Plant it Forward program and consider donating to fund summer hunger relief programs.
  2. Set up a lemonade stand to fight summer hunger. Get your kids and your neighbors involved in the mission to end hunger by brewing up some homemade lemonade and donating the proceeds.
  3. Plant a family garden and donate part of your harvest to the Food Bank for Larimer County. It’s the ultimate DIY: Use your outdoor space or get involved with a community garden to grow fruits and vegetables that can fill empty plates. Plant it Forward!
  4. Make that 5k go even farther by using an upcoming race as a way to raise money to fight child hunger. Set a fundraising goal to reach by the time of your race and ask your friends and family to support you while you train. Start a virtual food drive here.
  5. Organize a community food drive. Join forces with your church, local supermarket or other community organization to collect donated food. Learn the ins and outs of organizing a food drive.
  6. Buy an extra bag of food. When you’re doing your weekly grocery shopping, pick up a few extra nonperishable items and bag separately. Then a few times throughout the summer, drop off your collection at your local food bank. A local family in need can enjoy the same meal as you, making your dinnertime that much more special. Find where you can drop off needed groceries.
  7. Fundraise with your social network. Facebook Fundraisers make it easy to rally your friends and family to support children facing hunger. Setting up a fundraiser for Feeding America just takes a few minutes — get started today.
  8. Volunteer! There’s nothing more rewarding than spending an afternoon making a difference for your own community. There are many opportunities to volunteer at the Food Bank for Larimer County, learn more.
  9. Spread the world. Educate your friends on the ways you’re fighting child hunger or invite them to volunteer with you. Share with your friends and followers on social media your experience fighting hunger and encourage them to do the same. Check out the Food Bank for Larimer County’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages.

As many as 1 in 3 children in our community are at risk of hunger. The Food Bank for Larimer County feeds thousands of kids every year who would otherwise not know where their next meal will come from. Please consider donating to help us end childhood hunger.

Adapted from a Feeding America article by Brooke Still

2017 Corporate Food Fight Results

Corporate Food FightThirty-four companies put on the gloves and battled their way to raise an unprecedented $172,472 and 6,211 pounds of food for the Food Bank for Larimer County’s 2017 Corporate Food Fight. The Corporate Food Fight challenges local businesses to raise food and funds for hunger-relief programming in the community.

The event runs the entire month of April, but each company designs their own campaign timeline. Some companies do a simple food drive while others host a food-based event like a bake sale or chili cook-off. This year, some got down-right creative and hosted a poker tournament and a food truck rally! Over the course of the last 18 years, food fighters have raised well over $1,200,000 to provide food assistance for children, seniors and families in Larimer County.

 

2017 Corporate Food Fight Champions

Grand Champion: NVIDIA

Impact Award: Davis Wealth Management Group of Wells Fargo Advisors

Corporate Champion: AMD

Community Champions: Verus Bank of Commerce and Woodward

Newcomer Award: Madwire

“We are so grateful to all of the participating companies for their support,” said Heather Buoniconti, Chief Development Officer, Food Bank for Larimer County. “While it’s about competition, our food fighters pour their hearts, souls and creativity into raising food and funds with the goal of ending hunger in our community.”

Corporate Food Fighters in 2017 included: Action Staffing Solutions, AMD, Broadcom, Caliber Collision, Choice Organics, Comcast Spotlight, Co’s BMW Center and Mini of Loveland, Davis Wealth Management Group of Wells Fargo Advisors, Encompass Medical Partners, First National Bank, First Western Trust, FirstBank, HPE, HPI, Infinite Wellness Center, Intel Corporation, Kind Care, Liberty Tax Service, LPR Construction, Madwire, MM Solutions, Northern Colorado Commercial Association of Realtors, NVIDIA, Odell Brewing Company, Platte River Power Authority, Premier Regenerative Stem Cell and Wellness Center, Prosci, Smokey’s 420 House, Tolmar, Inc., UCHealth, Verus Bank of Commerce, Woodward, Inc., Xcel Energy.

Meet Craig – Loveland’s Food Share Manager!

Craig Fowler Food Bank for Larimer County Food Share ManagerCraig Fowler, the Food Share Manager at the Loveland location, thrives on the interaction he’s able to have with program guests. His warm smile says it all, “I enjoy seeing the faces of the people, getting to know their stories, and having the opportunity to chat with them. It’s a good feeling. Not just giving food out, but having a deeper connection with as many people as I can.”

As the Food Share manager, he works with his staff to set up the floor based on the available food donations.  It’s a balance of making sure all the goods are given out while they’re at their freshest, without running out before the Food Bank closes for the day. “I try to end up with one extra loaf of bread every day, and nothing else.”

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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.”

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!

Food Bank CEO Looks to Future

Amy Pezzani - Food Bank for Larimer County CEOAmy Pezzani, the CEO of the Food Bank for Larimer County has been interested in social justice issues since she was a child. In college, Amy majored in sociology to follow her passion. However, it wasn’t long before Amy needed help.

“I left home at 18 and paid for everything on my own. I had no financial support system and it was really hard. There were times that I worked 40 hours a week and went to school full-time, but I still couldn’t make ends meet.” She learned firsthand that,  “You can do everything you’re supposed to do, but sometimes you can’t keep up anyways. It’s stressful.” For a time,  Amy relied on food stamps to make sure she had enough to eat.

After college, Amy signed up for the Vista Volunteers program and volunteered at a food bank in Missouri for two years. Following that assignment, she was offered a full-time position. Shortly thereafter, the food bank’s director resigned and even though she was only 25, Amy applied for the position. She was shocked and thrilled to get the job; Amy had an incredible passion and desire to help people and felt like it was a great opportunity.

She served as the director of the Missouri food bank for four years before making the tough decision to come West, to Colorado. After living here for two years, the chief executive officer position at the Food Bank for Larimer County became available. She was awarded the job and has held this position since July 2004. As the CEO, Amy is responsible for the day to day operations of the organization, including human resources, financial management, fundraising, advocacy, public relations, and strategic planning.

Her favorite part of her job is the community partnerships that she’s able to help build. She says, “I love finding new ways to provide food for our community. I also like that things change all the time and that no two years, or even days, look alike. I feel inspired and motivated by learning and trying new things.”

Despite the great things that come along with her job, Amy wishes people understood the Food Bank for Larimer County does not just serve the homeless population, which is just a small percentage of guests. She says, “Nearly every street in every county in our country, there is someone who has used a food bank.” Amy went on to say,  “By and large, they are just in the same boat as I was in; many have degrees… They’re are doing it all right, but still not able to keep up with healthcare, housing, and childcare costs.”

As our community continues to grapple with housing and childcare affordability issues,  Amy sees the need for Food Bank services only increasing. “I feel like we are going to become more of a coping strategy for more people in our community.” She aims to make food more accessible through partnerships, pantries, and new ideas that will reduce hunger and alleviate the stress of feeding families.

When she looks to the future, Amy is excited. She notes, “We have such a huge ability to impact public health. We are impacting the health of people because we know food insecurity leads to other chronic health conditions and when we can provide good, nutritious food, we can make an impact. I am excited to continue down that path.”

When she’s not working at the Food Bank, Amy prefers to be outside when she can. She mountain bikes, hikes, and runs as much as possible. She also enjoys home improvement projects and reading.