Building expansion, drinking water and a resource station
[ By Katherine Nettles ]
While the Gunnison Country Food Pantry (GCFP) has played a vital role in food assistance for residents in need throughout the Gunnison Valley since it opened in 2006, the pantry has recently acquired a much larger space to meet growing demands and bridge information gaps to those it serves as well. The pantry will expand the resources it offers and collaborate with local health care providers and another like-minded non-profit organization in its new 7,000 square foot building in Gunnison beginning next month. Renovating the space is no small task, however, and the pantry has been fundraising for this effort since it purchased the building last winter. The pantry has gained support from local government agencies and individual and organizational donations, and now there is a final push to reach its fundraising goal in time for its grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony on Labor Day.
The GCFP purchased a new facility at 405 West Tomichi Avenue (Unit 2) in February for $587,500. The facility is poised to open with not only a fresh new ADA accessible space that accommodates both its visitors and its volunteers, but with additional offerings such as a drinking water refill station and a community resource hub to offer peer navigation support for behavioral and mental health resources.
Having topped $500,000 in financial and in-kind donation pledges, if the pantry secures an additional landmark of $100,000 in donations before Labor Day it would unlock a $100,000 match just in time for the opening—and the pantry is just $30,000 shy of the goal.
A growing need
The pantry served 1,045 households within the county last year on 6,672 different occasions—and those numbers are expected to climb. It distributed 230 tons of food in 2021, using additional storage spaces off-site and working within every nook and cranny of a cramped 900 square foot building. The increasing number of those seeking food assistance adds up, whether during the first year of the COVID pandemic when it jumped 80%, when it leveled off and returned to its previous 5% to 7% growth each year since 2018, or according to the latest projections that need will increase 20% as housing expenses and inflation, among other factors, put a strain on many residents.
The pantry opened a distribution site in Somerset serving about 50 families each month, and delivers food five days per week in addition to open doors for shopping three days each week.
“Bottlenecks and gaps in rural food system infrastructure have been exposed, primarily related to lack of storage, aggregation facilities, transportation and accessible distribution points,” according to a grant application the pantry penned earlier this year.
The pantry saved up for the move for seven years, says GCFP vice-president Katie Dix. And the pantry kicked off a major fundraising effort to help with renovations this spring.
The GCFP board of directors described the renovation work in another recent grant application statement: “GCFP design decisions are based on serving the needs of our recipients, volunteers and staff, the environment, and energy conservation. The most important considerations in this renovation were safety and practical use of space for the services we provide.”
These design decisions included leveling an uneven floor, eliminating stairs and building an ADA-compliant ramp leading to the dry storage area for safety precautions, since many of the pantry’s volunteers and recipients are elderly and moving food from storage to the Free Grocery Store section often includes machinery.
Another major component of the project is to purchase energy efficient, walk-in, temperature-controlled food storage units to consolidate storage from off-site locations and increase the capacity for storing perishable food.
The GCFP has so far raised more than $500,000 in funding and in-kind donations for the expansion project. This includes $50,000 from the Town of Crested Butte; $30,000 from the Town of Mt. Crested Butte; $30,000 from Gunnison County with a commitment to an additional pledge in the next fiscal year; and according to Dix, “The City of Gunnison has endorsed the project and will be supporting it in the next fiscal year,” as well.
Private donors Lenni and Bill Burke have given $50,000 and pledged an additional $50,000 over the next two years, and The Blake Hawk Family Challenge Grant has pledged to match up to $100,000 if that amount is raised by Labor Day.
“We have raised $70,000 so far,” said Dix of the matching mission. “We have just $30,000 to go.”
Additional donations to the project have come in from another 160 donors, both individuals and organization ranging from a few dollars to many thousands.
“Another 18 individuals and organizations have pledged to give by the end of the year,” says Dix, who keeps track of every detail. “And we have also 32 other gifts of resources and labor, everything from cement to other building materials.”
The next step is to bring together a multi-organizational collaboration as the doors prepare to open.
“GCFP is working to partner with local health providers to bridge a critical information gap by providing space for peer navigation support specialists to interact with our recipients to help them address needs in areas such as mental and behavioral health issues, which many people with food insecurity are at-risk for,” according to a statement issued in the GCFP grant application. The partnership with the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District will make a drinking water dispenser available for recipients who live in areas without access to clean water.
The pantry will only make use of about 4,000 square feet, however, and has set aside the remaining 3,000-square-feet to lease. Carbon Creek Physical Therapy, which has been located within the building for several years, and Mountain Roots Food Project have both made commitments to lease the extra space.
“Daily, GCFP volunteers and staff members hear excitement and endorsement from our neighbors who recognize the need we serve. Many have been the benefactors of GCFP’s food assistance themselves. Once in our new facility, partnering with Mountain Roots, GCFP will continually seek ways in which we can better collaborate with each other and community partners to ensure that our sum is much greater than our individual parts for the benefit of the community,” concluded the board’s statement.
For more information about the GCFP, to get involved as a volunteer or donate to its operations or its expansion project, visit gunnisoncountryfoodpantry.org.