Imagine a Future Without Hunger
Jarrett first came to the Gunnison Valley about 20 years ago. “In the beginning, I made snow up at Crested Butte during the winter and did ranch work in the summer,” he shared. He loved working outside, but found it difficult to live off the low wages, especially during the shoulder seasons. “Unfortunately for me, the Pantry didn’t open until 2006.”
As Jarrett became more established in his career, he still found the shoulder season work opportunities to be pretty lean. His mother, a Gunnison Country Food Pantry (GCFP) volunteer, was the one who told Jarrett about the Pantry. “With her urging,” Jarrett shared, “I began dropping by the Pantry when money got really tight.”
Volunteers like Jarrett’s mother still serve a critical role in keeping GCFP running efficiently. In 2021 alone, Katie Dix, current GCFP Executive Director, expects the Pantry will hit over 11,000 volunteer hours. Nationally, a volunteer hour is recognized to have a value of $28.54. At that rate, Pantry volunteers will contribute more than $318,000 worth of time in 2021. Volunteer time keeps overhead costs low; $0.84 of every dollar donated goes directly to purchasing nutritious food to supplement donations and rescued food.
You don’t have to look far to find someone for whom food assistance can make a big difference in their ability to make it work here in the Gunnison Valley, like it did for Jarrett. One-third of Gunnison County’s population lives below the subsistence level defined by the State of Colorado. This year, the Food Pantry expects to serve 1,000 households and over 2,200 individuals. During the height of the pandemic, the number of households seeking food assistance from the Pantry swelled by 80%.
Talking to Katie, it’s clear that nothing fires her up more than the idea of food being wasted while people go hungry. GCFP connects those in need with food that may otherwise be wasted. In 2021, Pantry volunteers have kept more than 100 tons of food from going into the landfill. In addition to rescued food, community members and the Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado also contribute food items.
Rescuing food from the landfill doesn’t just help tackle the problem of food insecurity. “Food waste is actually a significant cause of global warming,” Katie explains. Growing, packaging, and shipping food requires a lot of energy and water. When food rots in the landfill, it produces methane, which is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon.
While Jarrett feels secure in his career right now, he hasn’t forgotten the help he received from the Pantry during the lean years. Now, he encourages his coworkers to visit the Pantry and has even accompanied some of them if he senses they’re embarrassed.
I’ve long admired the work of GCFP. Their efficiency is commendable. But I also admire their strategic approach to planning for a future in which no one in the community experiences hunger. In the past couple of months, they’ve undertaken some big steps to make that vision a reality. Right now, their space constraints mean that food and supplies are stored in several different locations. Soon, they’ll be centralized under one roof. They are under contract to purchase the former Colorado Fitness building with the closing scheduled in the new year. This new home for GCFP will meet the needs of right now and also provide space to flex and meet the next largescale disaster, whether it be another pandemic, a fire, or a recession.
GCFP also recently established an Agency Endowment with the Community Foundation to support their vision for the future. This endowment will allow GCFP supporters to make contributions now that will ensure a permanent, consistent source of operating revenue for GCFP into the future. Tracy Leonard, GCFP Board President, said of the Endowment, “The Pantry has worked very hard this past year to continue serving our recipients during the COVID crisis. We are now turning our attention to the future. Our endowment and work to establish a solid foundation for future Pantry operations will be our focus for 2022, and we look forward to working with the entire Gunnison community to accomplish our goals.”
Tracy, Katie, and the entire Pantry team have united an extraordinary community to fulfill their mission, and I can’t wait to visit them in their new space.
If you’d like to learn more about Gunnison Country Food Pantry or make a donation to provide food assistance to those in need, please visit Gunnison Country Food Pantry. If you’re a local nonprofit organization and would like to talk about establishing your own permanent source of operating revenue in the form of an Agency Endowment, please email me at email@example.com or call 970-641-8837.