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Opinion: We must care for others as community needs grow 

click to enlarge CSFR volunteers are now distributing food from the organization’s office. - ALISSA SMITH
  • Alissa Smith
  • CSFR volunteers are now distributing food from the organization’s office.

By now all of us are tired and thoroughly freaked out by the growing devastation of COVID-19 as the novel coronavirus and its effects run rampant across the nation. For those on the front lines providing essential work during this time, there are shared feelings of exhaustion and invigoration as we begin to understand how valuable it is to step up for our communities. As I am writing this on Wednesday night, March 25, Gov. Jared Polis is issuing a statewide stay-at-home order — basic needs for food and shelter are growing.

Business closures, loss of work, social distancing and quarantine have increased financial strain on individuals, and this situation is compounding the nation’s existing societal systems of inequities — further illuminating the depth and ugliness of what we already know to be true, about who the systems work for and who they don’t.

Many children who rely on school for their meals are experiencing increased challenges to finding food. Simple tasks like going to the grocery store come with a high risk for the elderly and those who are immunocompromised, and yet we still have to eat. With the community’s demand for the essentials expanding by the minute, it is hard to know what to do or how to help.

I’m the director of food education at Colorado Springs Food Rescue. When eight of our community-led distribution sites closed indefinitely and we were unable to redistribute groceries from those sites, we had to quickly shift gears, convert our office into a community resource center and mobilize a Mutual Aid Hunger Response Team to meet the critical need for food. People in our community are now coming to Colorado Springs Food Rescue’s no-cost grocery program at the Helen Hunt School five days a week, sometimes showing up two to four hours before the program opens. Access to fresh food is a priority more than ever, and will continue to be so.
Victoria Stone, our director of food access says, “People are really scared…[asking questions like] how many times can I come through the line this week?” Stone says she “wouldn’t call it hoarding” with so much panic in the atmosphere. This is unprecedented, and there is no model for it. People are doing their best with the resources they have to find ways to stock up, she says.

Stone, who is spearheading our on-the-ground efforts, says her understanding of what food security means has deepened ver the last couple weeks of this crisis. People process their feelings in different ways, like through anger and frustration — sometimes even cutting in line — but we have to remember that the trouble people have accessing food can be exacerbated by a lack of transportation, no or low income and possibly an inability or lack of resources to cook.

It’s easy to write off all shopping anxiety as panic hoarding (which does exist) and get frustrated with people, but many share the sentiment of wanting to gather the supplies they need so they can stay home. This virus is non-discriminatory, even though it has been used as a vehicle for racism and has a different effect on those who are pushed to the margins. We are all in this together, and if one person is affected, it affects all of us.

We have to dig deeper and remember those most vulnerable among us. It’s been awesome to see at a grassroots level what people are doing to care for those in need, like People’s Grocery Store hosted by Empowerment Solidarity Network and The Chinook Center in front of Switchback Coffee Roasters a few weeks ago, when volunteers handed out bags of groceries to families and the immunocompromised, free of charge. And last week, Harrison School District 2, Rise Coalition, COSiloveyou and Infinity Shuttle came together to hand out resources like food and toiletries for Southeast residents, who tend to have lower incomes, and grapple with housing shortages and limited transportation at greater rates than the rest of the city.

What I’ve found is that heroes are everyday people with the courage of their own convictions, and the belief that they have the power to make the experience of others better, not for the accolades but because it is in their heart to do so.

And as the Colorado Springs Food Rescue website says, “It’s time for radical solidarity.” We are going to get through this together. We are going to rise as we lift others; we can’t forget that, even as the natural inclination to only fend for ourselves surfaces. What is happening right now will be remembered through history. You don’t have to be St. Corona, the patron saint of epidemics, (look her up!) to help. You just have to be willing to give what you can. Oh and yes, you can volunteer or donate.

Colorado Springs Food Rescue
No-Cost Grocery Program
Helen Hunt Campus
917 E. Moreno Ave., #130
Tuesdays-Fridays, 3 p.m.;
Saturdays, 1 p.m.

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