Having a full stomach should not come at the cost of pride. But for some, it comes down to choosing between the two. This Northern Colorado food bank is not only working to alleviate hunger, but also to empower the local community. The Food Bank for Larimer County (FBLC), which encompasses the cities of Fort Collins and Loveland, has taken a refreshing approach to hunger relief. The FBLC’s programs and leadership continue to make positive impacts on the local community, through practices that emphasize dignity.
Principles & Growth
Founded in 1984, the FBLC has grown significantly in recent years. This growth can be seen through their increase in staff, volunteers, and number of meals provided annually. Their number of employees has grown from 30 to 60, doubling in size. The amount of food people take home through their programs has increased from 35 to 40 pounds, to currently 50 to 60 pounds. Additionally, they distributed approximately 8.3 million meals in 2022.
The FBLC has four principle values that they use to guide their efforts. They are integrity, accountability, efficiency, and dignity. Josh Greene, the organization’s Operations Director of six years, says the dignity principle stands out the most to him personally. Utilizing social services is often associated with negative stigmas like shame. Greene says, “There’s a reputation among hunger relief organizations and charities in general, that it’s not always the most dignified. It’s kind of like an emergency response type thing, or it’s here, you get what you get, this is what we have.”
While efficiency is another of their guiding values, Greene emphasizes the importance of finding the right balance between the two. He says, “What we’ve found in recent years is that what is most efficient is not always what’s most dignified.”
One way in which they emphasize dignity is through their food pantries. Straying away from the traditional operation of food pantries in the US, the FBLC seeks to make a visit to their food pantry similar to that of going to a grocery store. Most food pantries provide the same items for all clients, with limits on the amount of each they can receive. The FBLC chooses to prioritize client choice instead. They created an environment where clients can push shopping carts through the pantry and choose their own groceries to take home.
In addition to their brick and mortar food pantry locations, they regularly run mobile food pantries in varying areas across the county. Their mobile food pantries operate on a regular schedule, and bring the resources that their main food pantries provide to areas they have found to be underserved, yet still have high levels of need.
A mobile food pantry they run at Poudre High School twice monthly sees high levels of “anonymous visits.” This refers to when clients choose to not share any personal information with the organization. Some of the reasons for anonymous visits that Greene lists are, “a general distrust of social services, fear of public charge, and fear of compromising their immigration status.”
Greene shares the implications of this data, saying, “The fact that we have such a high number of anonymous visits at that pantry tells us that these are people that we weren’t reaching before, and that are more comfortable coming to us in a mobile, public setting than coming to our actual facility.”
By removing barriers to community members accessing their programs, they are decreasing local food insecurity. According to the USDA, food insecurity is, “a lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active, healthy life.” Data from the 2021 U.S. Census showed that over 30,000 people in Larimer County were facing food insecurity. Although many people do not think of food insecurity as a pressing local issue, Greene says that they have a client on almost every street in Fort Collins and Loveland.
Ways to Support
When asked what people can do to support the FBLC, Greene shared three possible avenues of support: financial donations, volunteering, and advocacy. The majority of their annual operating budget, which is currently around $8 million, comes from individual donors. As for volunteering, Greene shares that they, “have thousands and thousands of volunteers that contribute their time and energy every year, and without them, we literally could not do what we do.” On the advocacy front, he also emphasizes the importance of people simply talking about food insecurity and spreading awareness around its prominence in the community. Wanting to have access to complete, healthy meals for yourself and your family is not shameful.
The FBLC seeks to continue making tangible, positive impacts, and Greene says, “If a community can’t eat, then it’s not a community, right?”