For the people who feed Southern Colorado's hungry, 2009 will be hard to forget.
The gods of fortune have dished heaping portions of both good and bad luck this year to Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado. In April, the nonprofit finally got its own 50,000-square-foot warehouse on the east side, double the size of its former rented facility. The new, environmentally friendly building in the Powers Boulevard corridor provides much-needed room to store food donations, particularly those that are frozen or need to stay refrigerated — meaning Care and Share can accept more free food.
But just as the warehouse was opening its doors, CEO Nicholas Saccaro announced he had accepted a job in Denver, where he and his family live. His last day was May 13.
Chief Operating Officer Alex Edwards took the reins on an interim basis. Then, in August, Edwards announced he, too, had taken another job and was moving back to his hometown of Omaha, Neb.
That has left Lori Kapu, the chief programs officer and a 19-year veteran of the organization, working three jobs at a time when food demand has been increasing. A recent fundraiser offered little relief, bringing in around $20,250 — far short of the $100,000-to-$150,000 goal.
So, while the food is still flowing out its doors, this organization for the less fortunate has seen better days itself.
"We'll do whatever we can to get food out to families and children in need," spokesperson Suzanne Lee says.
By "we," she actually means her co-workers. Lee has announced that she, too, will leave Care and Share soon.
The facts testify to Care and Share's ability to keep it together amid turmoil.
The organization fed 119,000 people in its last fiscal year (which ended June 30), more than a third of them children. That's up from two years ago, when it fed 93,000. It handed out 14.5 million pounds of food to charities that help the hungry, up from 11 million pounds the year before.
In the past few days, Care and Share opened a new "Kids Cafe," which feeds hungry children, in Avondale, a rural area east of Pueblo. It also is meeting higher demand on other programs like "Send Hunger Packing," which gives kids backpacks full of food to take home over the weekends. The program is important for families that depend on free school breakfasts and lunches, and often can't afford meals on Saturday and Sunday.
"An 8-year-old can't go out and get a job and put food on the table," Lee says. "[Kids] are one of the most important populations we serve."
But the pressure on Care and Share is huge. A few years ago, there were an estimated 130,000 people in need of food assistance in Southern Colorado. In the recession, that number has surely increased.
Harvey Polk, a Care and Share employee responsible for helping agencies with pickups, says charities from soup kitchens to churches have seen huge increases in need. Food pantries, where families can "grocery shop" free of charge, have seen the biggest jumps in demand.
"It depends on the agency, but there's agencies that have a 100 percent increase in demand, especially the west, Woodland Park ... and the south side, where there's a lot of need," Polk says. "It's not the standard type of family you would expect."
There's always been enough food for the agencies (even if it may not always be the items people are looking for). And Cathryn John, chair of the Care and Share board of directors, says she's going to make sure it stays that way.
"We've always done very well with what we have," she says. "Somehow things have always worked out and we've always been able to come through."
The new Care and Share warehouse is surrounded by fruit and vegetable "ecosystem-based" gardens. Though lovingly planted and nurtured with wood chips and fresh compost, the plots look a little sad. Between the tough dirt of the prairie land and frequent hailstorms, they haven't had a chance to thrive. And now cold weather is coming.
But unlike its gardens, Care and Share itself may soon see better days. A new CEO could be hired within a week (the candidate pool had been narrowed to two as of press time). The hire follows a nationwide search that John says the board felt was necessary to find the perfect leader. When the new CEO is hired, he or she will fill the other vacant positions.
The charity's budget, though still a tight $5 million, got a recent boost from El Pomar Foundation in the form of an unexpected $80,000 grant. That helped make up for that fizzling fundraiser.
By the way, John says, the fundraiser, dubbed "Truckloads of Hope," wasn't a complete failure. It was in its inaugural year, she says, and it came right after the $8.4 million capital campaign that paid for the warehouse.
"Were we a little bit disappointed? Yes," she says. "But I just don't think it was [a] total bust."