Rotary supports community through pandemic

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Photo courtesy Livia Lynch
The Pagosa Springs Rotary Club continued its “Feed Our Children” backpack program through distance learning and the summer break. From left to right are Rotarians Carrie Weiss, Jo Bridges and Lassie Olin.

By Livia Lynch
Pagosa Springs Rotary Club

During the COVID pandemic, the Pagosa Springs Rotary Club actively continues to serve our community and those most in need. 

The Rotary Club’s “Feed Our Children” program was established nine years ago by Rotarians Jo Bridges and Lassie Olin to meet the needs of children in elementary school who frequently came to school on Mondays and reported to their teachers that they were hungry over the weekend. Often, these children utilized the free and reduced food program at Pagosa Springs Elementary School during the week, but were left without food support over the weekend. 

When school suddenly switched to online this spring due to the pandemic, we had to quickly adapt our food model. For the past nine years, Rotarians have purchased large quantities of food and stored it in a food pantry, and then each week we would pack backpacks for individual families. On Fridays, we would transport the backpacks to the elementary school and at the end of the school day, Rotarians would hand out the backpacks to each child.

Fortunately, when the COVID-related changes occurred in the local school, the school district decided to continue to provide daily breakfasts and lunches to those families in need. The Rotary Club has been able to work with the school transportation department, which agreed to deliver our weekend food via the school bus routes, as it was doing for the daily school food delivery. Rotarians have continued to serve the same families who had been in the program when the school closed. 

Our communities’ economic strain continues, so when the school district received funds to be able to deliver food Monday through Friday throughout the summer, the Pagosa Springs Rotary Club jumped on board, too. We reduced our volunteers to only three people working each week, two packing and one taking the bags to the bus barn. By doing this, we were able to work in entirely separate areas safely. Currently, the Rotary “Feed Our Children” backpack program is serving 58 children weekly.

One of our big challenges has been the availability of shelf-stable foods during the pandemic. Many factors cause problems for our Rotary Club to secure adequate food for the backpack program. We believe that general food system distribution issues, as well as a high demand for food by our local food banks, coupled with many individuals who over-shop, has contributed to the program’s ongoing food scarcity. 

During our summer program, we have generally shopped locally and online and have experienced increasing food prices. Increased food costs and our inability to have our typical food collection boxes around the community have driven the “Feed Our Children” program costs up substantially. 

Photo courtesy Livia Lynch
Since March, The Pagosa Springs Rotary Club has been able to donate approximately $12,000 to the food coalition for local food banks to purchase food for community members in need. From left to right are Rose Cheadle, Community Methodist Church Food Pantry volunteer, and Michelle Huck, Food Coalition treasurer.

As summer winds down and the structure of the school is changing again, we are not sure what the program will look like exactly in the coming months. What we do know is that we will adapt the Rotary “Feed Our Children” program as warranted, to serve families in need. 

In addition to the “Feed Our Children” program, the Rotary Club has also been busy financially supporting other community programs affected by the pandemic. When our club learned of the extreme need for food in the community, we quickly started exploring other ways to help. The Pagosa Springs Rotary Club decided to support the Food Coalition 4 Archuleta County. This is a group that works with local food pantries and local food growers to provide food for those in need. When the pandemic hit, the food coalition was asked to coordinate the emergency food supply effort because the clientele for the six local food pantries had doubled. 

The Pagosa Springs Rotary Club since March has been able to donate approximately $12,000 to the food coalition for local food banks to purchase food for community members in need. 

Rotary also chose to increase its support of the Pagosa Outreach Connection (POC), an organization composed of local nonprofits, service organizations and churches that provides financial assistance to those in need. Although the Pagosa Springs Rotary supports the POC annually, the club decided to help meet the increased demand by donating an additional $6,000 to POC, bringing the total Rotary club donation for the year to $10,000.

The third organization that the Pagosa Springs Rotary Club has supported financially during the pandemic is Rise Above Violence. We have donated $2,000 to this local nonprofit to help support its increased caseload resulting from COVID-19. When catastrophic events like a global pandemic occur, domestic abuse and sexual assault numbers increase and that is what is happening in Archuleta County. 

All of Rotary’s recent donations were made possible by utilizing funds from our annual fundraiser events such as the October Barn Dance and Casino Night and from individual Rotarian donations. 

The Pagosa Springs Rotary Club Community Assistance Fund is a 501(c)(3) and if you want to help with the “Feed Our Children” program or any other local Rotary project, donations may be sent to the Pagosa Springs Rotary CAF, P.O. Box 685. 

The Pagosa Springs Rotary Club meets weekly via Zoom and information about upcoming meetings can be found at pagosaspringsrotary.org.