Colorado Blueprint to End Hunger
The Colorado Blueprint to End Hunger is a multi-year plan to end hunger for all Coloradans. It was developed, with funding from the Colorado Health Foundation, by individuals and organizations from across the state who are working on or experiencing hunger in their own homes and communities.
The organization has several goals. Those goals include increasing public understanding and awareness that solving hunger is vital to the health and well-being of all individuals and families, the Colorado economy and every community, and increasing the number of Coloradans who can access affordable and nutritious food. Recently, the Colorado Blueprint recognized the Pueblo Food Project, directed by Monique Marez, for its work.
In a world where everything has been turned upside down, the Pueblo Food Project and its partners decided to use the upheaval to reimagine how they might address hunger across the county and in the city of Pueblo not just during the current crisis, but well into the future.
Spearheaded by the Pueblo Food Project, launched just one year ago to help with hunger relief through better coordination between the city and the county, the innovation started in a simple place. Project staff tried to put together a guide for helping people access food in the new COVID environment. Conference calls intended to piece the information together instead illuminated places for better coordination and sharing. Suddenly, it became clear how coordination could occur to make better use of the food available, buy produce locally to support hometown producers and growers and serve families with culturally appropriate food.
Now weekly calls of the food access taskforce include 30 organizations representing nearly all of the groups working on hunger and food access across the entire county. The calls solve problems large and small, and they work to ease the coordination so elusive in the past. Extra to-go containers and sanitizer are delivered to volunteers. Excess potatoes from local producers are shared across school districts and food pantries. Plans for filling the weekend food gap for students of Pueblo School District 60 are created and executed.
At the helm of this effort is Monique Marez, coordinator for the Pueblo Food Project. The Blueprint asked her to share a few key takeaways she collected as she navigated coordinating a disconnected system in just a few, short months.
- The power of the purse: To execute on a shared goal of using the limited financial resources available to both get quality food to people who need it and help local businesses where possible, Marez approached local producers – like Pampano Tortilleria, Mauro Farms and Springside Cheese – with cash in hand. “I found pretty quickly, that they had only ever been asked to donate. You can’t ask people who are struggling through the same economic challenges we all are to donate what they produce. But you can find a win for everyone.” Marez was able to negotiate better than wholesale prices, invest the grant money she had in local producers and growers and provide fresh food to families. Beyond the healthy fresh food grown and produced locally provided to families, businesses like Springside Cheese actually had to bring in workers, who would otherwise not have been working, for extra hours to fill the order of 1,000 pounds of cheese.
- A focus on coordination: While high-level goals for addressing food insecurity had been developed in Pueblo County, it took the pandemic to expose the deeper need for better on-the-ground coordination of resources. Until the crisis, groups had continued to work serving their traditional communities in the ways they always had. Weekly taskforce calls made it possible for these groups to share excess or ask for resources in real time. This coordination stretched beyond Pueblo to include opportunities for reallocation of excess food from as far away as Denver. “At first our calls were about asking for state-level help. We quickly realized that we had the resources in our own community or in other communities, we just had to connect the dots.” One call found there were 48,000 granola bars on seven pallets in Denver nearing their expiration date. Every one of those bars found their way into soup kitchen bag lunches and school district bag lunches.
- Feed people what they love: Marez said a major benefit of finding news ways to buy from local producers, is that they are already producing the foods people love and are familiar with. The Pueblo Food Project filled a weekend gap for the local school district by producing one thousand food bags to cover a weekend. Rather than fill those bags with items many families wouldn’t recognize or know how to cook, Marez locally sourced beans, potatoes, onions and cheese, as well as fresh tortillas to create burrito boxes that were both nourishing and culturally relevant. Bags also included a bar of soap, produced locally by Formula 55.