Food Coalition shifts to emergency action due to pandemic

By Pauline Benetti
Special to The SUN
What does it look like when a community mobilizes to confront an emergency? Archuleta County is doing that right now and this is what it looks like. The county, the town, medical facilities, food pantries, Archuleta School District, the Chamber of Commerce, many businesses and most of the county’s nonprofit organizations have all shifted into high gear.
This is about one of those community efforts. The Archuleta Food Systems Food Equity Coalition (Food Coalition) received a grant last fall to conduct a local food assessment and develop an implementation plan. The Food Coalition was using a community engagement approach to assess the local food supply/system with an eye toward reducing food insecurity and thus was in a good position to shift into emergency action as we entered into the current COVID-19 pandemic.
The Food Coalition functions as an organizing and coordinating agent and had already helped create working groups for the community food assessment/planning. The first among these being the Food Pantry Team, which has grown during the emergency food work to include all Archuleta food pantries — Amazing Grace Church, Community United Methodist Church, Pope John Paul II Catholic Church, St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, Restoration Fellowship Church and TARA Community Center (Arboles).
Food pantries have traditionally served the members of our community who need access to foods and supplies at no cost to them. They are now in overdrive to increase the supply of food available through their sites and to develop safe processes for distribution. Monetary donations to allow for targeted food purchases can be mailed to: P.O. Box 300, Pagosa Springs, CO 81147.
The community is also encouraged to donate nonperishables on a regular basis during this emergency time. Donation food boxes are set up at the UPS Store and Pagosa Brewing uptown. The list of items requested by the food pantries is available at foodcoalition4archuleta.weebly.com.
The Food Coalition, in partnership with the Senior Center, is working to connect seniors and other at-risk community members with food resources. A need was identified for a system that would receive and respond to both food donation calls and requests for food and shopping assistance for homebound members of our community. Those calls will come through the Archuleta County Call Center and be routed to volunteers who will then gather information from the callers to help respond to food needs appropriately.
In conjunction with this service, Meals on Wheels, Wilderness Journeys, Archuleta County’s Mountain Express Transit and Visiting Angels are working together on the transportation/delivery system of this emergency food work. Individuals supporting this work will be offered training in personal safety and safe food handling. Additionally, the Food Coalition is working with the Pagosa Baking Company to establish a restaurant-food pantry partnership that will add to the food supply in this emergency and that would serve as a model for future efforts in food waste prevention and resource recovery.
The Growers of Archuleta County is a second Food Coalition working group. This group is working to increase local production of food through several channels. Growers in the county who have green houses have been contacted and are in a unique position of being able to plant extra produce right now and are being encouraged to do so. County backyard growers and farmers and ranchers are being contacted to plant extra food when the season arrives. Information regarding safe handling and transportation resources for moving food to the different food pantries is in process right now and will be supplied to the growers.
Other Food Coalition groups that are actively engaged in the food work include the Pagosa Peak Open School (PPOS), Communities Group (Arboles and Aspen Springs) and the Youth Rise class at Pagosa Springs High School. These groups contributed to the community food assessment work and, since COVID-19, have adapted their involvement in response to the needs of the community.
During this time, clear communication in our county is critical to keep our community informed and up to date as we respond to this rapidly changing situation. The county is working on communications with the community starting with the Archuleta County Call Center at 422-7084. This call center can connect community members with resources and agencies that can help answer questions.
Of course, calls for medical assistance should always go to 911 or to individual medical providers; and other needs (food shopping, building food boxes, securing food and supplies, fundraising, outreach, covering phone line for food related support) can now be directed to a central Archuleta County Call Center at 422-7084 and will be routed to the appropriate agency or individual.
Finally, the Food Coalition website — foodcoalition4archuleta.weebly.com — includes the Archuleta County Call Center number, 422-7084, an emergency food request form, a volunteer form and information regarding supportive services offered by food pantries (with a list of needed foods), schools, Senior Center and the Department of Human Services. Requests will be routed to the appropriate agency or individual.
There are many ways that one can become engaged in community emergency work. We invite those who choose to donate funds toward these efforts to contact us at fsfearchuleta@gmail.com to learn how their funds can be used to support those involved in securing food and related supplies in response to identified and emergent needs.

This story was posted on April 2, 2020.