A recovering economy hasn't stopped the steady increase in need that Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado has seen in the 31 counties it serves.
The charity helps feed 108,000 people with about 19 million pounds of food annually, but that falls short of the true need identified in a study by Care and Share's parent organization, Feeding America: 25.1 million pounds of food for over 171,000 needy people.
Care and Share executive director Lynne Telford calls that gap "unacceptable," and in July she set a five-year goal to close it. The ambitiousness of the plan has raised eyebrows among some of her peers.
"One person even [called it] audacious," Telford says with a laugh. "But I really believe it's doable."
The plan, called "Within Reach," will require $2.6 million in one-time costs, plus about $1 million extra a year to sustain the increased output. That means bumping Care and Share's annual monetary donations from about $6 million to about $7 million.
"We've got all kinds of great plans for getting Care and Share to that level, that can generate enough cash and food ... to provide access to everybody who does need food," Telford says.
For starters, Care and Share recently began selling its cardboard boxes for recycling. The effort raised about $10,000 last year, and in the next five years, Telford says she thinks the business could bring in $400,000 annually while cutting back on waste.
But Telford says the real key to reaching the goal will be the community. Businesses will likely help fund the one-time costs of the expansion, but Telford says the ongoing costs will mostly come from individuals who either start donating or increase their donations. Since the organization only has 41 employees, down from 49 when Telford started, volunteers will also play a role.
Mark Owen, who is retired and has been volunteering for Care and Share for 3½ years, says he's ready to help.
"This is a tremendously efficient organization," he says, "so you go, 'Wow, I'm really part of something that is serious about the mission of feeding food-insecure people.'"
Total revenues for Care and Share have been ticking steadily upward in recent years: $28.2 million in 2011, $30.5 million in 2012, nearly $40 million in 2013. But Telford cautions that those numbers include food donations, and though it may seem counterintuitive, what she really needs is more money.
That's because Care and Share has access to tons of free food: Food manufacturers partner with Feeding America and offer it by the truckload; local groceries and restaurants give castoffs regularly; farmers donate excess produce; Colorado families scour their cupboards and fill boxes for the charity. Securing another 6 million pounds of food is actually the easy part. The challenge is getting it to the people who need it.
Telford says that for every 10 pounds of food they bring in from a food manufacturer, they pay about $1 — the amount needed to transport it from the factory to the warehouse. Volunteers sort the food into boxes, which are then loaded into smaller trucks and taken to one of Care and Share's more than 300 partner agencies, like food pantries and soup kitchens. Care and Share also distributes some of the food directly through mobile food pantries, particularly in rural areas.
Telford says the charity needs another truck and four lower-level staff members, and it needs to reorganize its volunteer effort to better move food through the warehouse. She's already hired a new assistant volunteer coordinator, and a group of longtime volunteers has set up a plan to increase efficiency in the warehouse.
The final piece of the plan is perhaps the most difficult.
Getting food to people means making sure all the partner organizations have the needed capacity and staffing. Telford says some do and some don't. Some are so small that they likely won't be able to expand, while others just need a little help. For instance, Care and Share recently bought one agency a new fridge, which allowed it to expand considerably.
Lorri Orwig, chief development officer of Silver Key Senior Services, says her organization is among those ready for the expansion. In the last few years, some of Silver Key's programs for needy seniors have filled up. Its free pantry has seen a 50 percent increase in visitors since last year, she says. The pantry is currently giving out about 30,000 to 32,000 pounds of food a year, but the way things are going, Orwig welcomes an increase in food from Care and Share.
"We're not exactly sure what the reason is," she says, "we're just seeing this significant bump ... there is so much need in this community."