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May 23, 2024 Meeting: Gunnison County Food Pantry

Gunnison County Food Pantry’s executive director, Jodi Payne, and food security coordinator, Jake Bartholomew, joined the CB Rotary Club’s meeting this morning to share their inspiring and critical work.

Jodi shared that 13%, over 1,700 people in Gunnison County live below the poverty line. 40% of our fellow community members live below the self-sufficient standard, meaning the make more than federal poverty levels but less than what they need to live in this county. A family of four needs to make at least $86,959, which is $30,000 less than Gunnison’s median income. Most of the employment opportunities in the county are lower-wage service industry jobs. In fact, about 40% pay less than $30,000 per year. This means many people have to work multiple jobs, and a study by Headwater Economics found that individuals in Gunnison County work 1.34 jobs, equaling 53.6 hours per week.

In the first five months of 2024, the Pantry, which is located at 114 S 14th St in Gunnison, has already served 1,500 individuals. They provide food assistance to those in need in a kind, confidential, and supportive environment. To do this, the Pantry offers 5 distributions of food a week. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, community members can shop at the Pantry’s No Cost Grocery Store, and on Tuesdays and Fridays, Pantry volunteers provide food delivery services for those with accessibility concerns. The Pantry also serves neighbors in the north end of the valley in three ways: a “Mini Pantry” at CBMR’s employee lounge, sample bags distributed annually to CBMR employees, and emergency boxes in five locations in CB and Mt CB.

The Mini Pantry at CBMR provides easy to prepare meals like canned foods, rice, pasta, and cereal that can be made without the use of an oven and is replenished every two weeks. The sample bags are provided in coordination with CBMR to their employees with information about the Pantry for anyone who may need to utilize its services. This April, the Pantry gave away 100 bags of free groceries at CBMR’s last ski day and let CBMR employees know about the assistance that the Pantry can provide during the off-season. Finally, each emergency box around the north end of the valley contains no-prep food for one person for 2-3 days. Despite these efforts, the Pantry’s staff and Board recognized that they may not be meeting the needs of our community in the north end of the valley and started Pop-Up Pantries in 2023.

The Pop-Up Pantries were hosted 3 times at the Mt CB transit center last summer to better understand how the Pantry could serve the community and provide food distribution to alleviate hunger needs in the north end of the valley. The three Pop-Up Pantries served 124 individuals, and the increased need for service in the north end of the valley was made apparent. The Pop-Up Pantries will be held on the 2nd and 4th Thursdays this July through December, half of which will be at the Mt CB transit center and half at the Oh Be Joyful Church in CB.

Jodi recalled a heart-rending moment from last year’s Pop-Up Pantries when two roommates were shopping and one turned to the other and said, “Oh my gosh, we get to eat tonight!”

The Gunnison County Food Pantry provides a low-barrier service due to the substantial number of community members who live below our county’s self-sufficient standard. Pantry guests complete a questionnaire and note their income level on a chart that states whether they qualify for federal food assistance. If they don’t, Pantry volunteers ask if they are in need of food today, and they’re provided with hunger relief assistance if their answer is yes.

What can we, the Rotarians of our community, do to help? Think about our neighbors who may be struggling with food insecurity, and find a way to share this information with our networks. Word of mouth is 3x more likely to bring a new guest to the Pantry. Share the Pantry’s location, hours, and north-valley services. Give to the Pantry financially, by donating food, or through your time as a volunteer. The Pantry in Gunnison and the Pop-Up Pantries in CB and Mt CB both need our volunteer help. Most of us eat apples whenever we want, but let’s think about those who cannot.

Finally, Jake put the Pantry to our own test:
First, is it the truth? Yes, there is food insecurity for families throughout our valley.
Second, is it fair to all concerned? Yes, the Pantry provides assistance to anyone in need. While life isn’t fair to many of our neighbors, we can work together to make it fairer.
Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Yes, spend one shift volunteering at the Pantry, and you’ll know the goodwill and better friendships!
Will it be beneficial to all concerned? Yes, let’s make our corner of the world as good as possible for everyone who lives here.

Feb 28, 2024 Meeting: Shelley Read, Author

Shelley Read joined us this morning for coffee to share her incredible adventure as the author of the international best seller, Go As a River. If you haven’t read this local (and world-wide) favorite yet, it’s available at Old Rock Library (although it may be on hold!) or Townie Books on Elk Avenue. Do yourself a favor and grab a copy ASAP.

Shelley is a 5th generation Coloradoan who grew up visiting family in the Gunnison Valley, learned to ski by the age of three at CBMR, and eventually moved here full-time with a teaching position at Western in 1991. A life-long writer, Shelley shared a memory of writing a 66-page short story at the age of 9 in response to a homework prompt for a 2-pager! Along with writing, Shelley loves camping, whether with friends and family or in solitude, and her favorite place to spend time in the woods is up the East River Valley. It was there on a solo overnight at the base of Belleview that she first encountered the character of Victoria Nash.

For those who have read the book, the story of the doe will be familiar. While sitting around her fire that evening, Shelley watched a doe venture into the meadow followed by two fawns. The first fawn was healthy but its sibling was significantly less so, and Shelley recalled connecting with the doe and wondering how she would keep both babies alive through the winter. On her way up Belleview the next day, Shelley kept returning the powerful experience and realized she was seeing it through the eyes of someone else. That someone eventually made herself known as Victoria Nash, a young woman from Iola, Colorado.

Over the next 12+ years, a story of displacement, resilience, and love grew out of that first encounter with Victoria and her doe. Shelley came to know Victoria and her neighbors, friends, and family through short scenes she would jot down between lectures, campouts, raising her two kids, and life in general. While researching the Blue Mesa Dam and the resulting displacement of the Towns of Iola, Cebolla, and Sapinero, Shelley knew she didn’t want to leave out the history of displacement prior to these settlements. Thus came the character of Wilson Moon, who Shelley intentionally kept mysterious, feeling it wasn’t her place to tell that story but unwilling to leave this important piece of history out of her novel. While Go As a River has strong overtones of romantic love, the overarching story is about the love of land, the importance of home, and compassion for the human condition.

The centerpiece of the peach symbolizes each of these important components. Well known to be a fragile and difficult fruit to grow, Shelley explained that everywhere she goes one of the first questions she’s asked is whether we really grow peaches in Colorado. Despite no actual history of Iola-grown peaches, Shelley landed on the peach for its ability to grow against the odds, its need for generational knowledge and expertise, and its resiliency in a-typical and new soils. Peaches were special to Victoria, something that held her family together despite everything.

Shelley also shared the incredible tale of publishing Go As a River. From sending her manuscript to the two Colorado-based literary agents she could find back in 2017 to immediately being accepted by one (no word from the other, and we all wonder how regretful they must be now!). Nearly three years later, Shelley was signed by a publishing company in NYC, and even before her book was published here in the States, it was being translated into over 30 languages and published world-wide! This very week, the Ukranian edition is arriving on shelves, publishers sure that it will bring hope and courage to their people who have been going through immense hardships the last three years. Fortuitously, Shelley shared that Go As a River was released exactly one year ago today in bookstores around the US.

As Shelley wraps up her US tour this year and preps for a European tour, the book is also being adapted for the big screen in Hollywood. It’s been a whirlwind for the Colorado native, but she was all smiles as she shared that yes, there is another one on the way (and all of us in the room erupted in cheers).

Feb 14, 2024 Meeting: CB Community School

This morning we had the pleasure of being joined by Sally Hensley, Ernie Kothe, Jennifer Read, and Leigh Paulsen from the Crested Butte Community School. Sally, CBCS’s elementary principal, and Ernie, the school’s secondary principal shared highlights of each school, including our ranking in the state (17th out of 363 schools!), a student-led Red Cross Club, and special programs like Ski and Skate for PE that help all kids access our community’s amazing recreational activities.

Secondary School Counselor Jennifer Read works closely with Rotary and students to administer our senior scholarships, Service Above Self Award, and youth exchange program. We’ve presented 42 scholarships to seniors in the last two years, and we have 3 outbound exchange students heading abroad in 2024! But, helping to administer our programs is just a part of the vast array of things Jennifer does for our students. She also leads Senior Seminar, helping seniors prep for the college or career path, including lessons on financial literacy. Her middle school program, Wheel, helps students heading into high school explore the many opportunities from tech studies to music and more so they’re well prepared for their next chapter. These are just a few of the many ways Jennifer helps guide our students into the future!

Leigh Paulsen also represents Rotary’s support of our community’s next generation, as the new Family Liaison, which is partially funded by Rotary grants. Leigh is providing more personal communication with families and the community at large, increasing the school’s presence on social media to help tell our stories, coordinating grade-level fundraising, and conducting needs assessments and sustainability efforts. It’s an exciting addition to the school’s staff that we’re looking forward to learning more about as Leigh moves forward with the position!

Finally, we learned about the expansion project, which will begin this summer. The expansion will provide better safety and security through more appropriate office locations, a new Career and Technical Education wing for the secondary school, upgrades to the playground and soccer field, and new Pre-K classrooms. Scheduled to be completed in 2025, this renovation is sure to be a huge asset to our community!