Filling Up: Full Tanks for Full Stomachs

Stephanie South

As part of El Pomar Foundation’s grantmaking process, fellows routinely conduct site visits with grantees. These community impact visits, called CIVs, offer the trustees a way to measure the impact and effectiveness of grants across the state. Below you can read about Stephanie South’s meeting with the executive director of Western Colorado 2-1-1 and what she learned about the needs of nonprofits and service gaps in Mesa County.

I met with Charity Brockman, director of Western Colorado 2-1-1, at the United Way headquarters in Grand Junction. Brockman made two points during my visit that underscored the different ways the economic downturn is still impacting residents of Colorado—the first concerned hunger, and the  second a gap in services.

The United Way of Mesa County acts as the fiscal agent for Western Colorado 2-1-1, a resource hotline for those in need that serves sixteen counties in northwest and southwest Colorado (in partnership with the United Way of Southwestern Colorado). El Pomar Foundation’s grant to Western Colorado 2-1-1 was used to purchase and set up a new software and phone system that allowed the program to take more calls and direct more people to the right services.

What People Need Now

Although the services provided by Western Colorado 2-1-1 refer clients to sources of help with a variety of issues, several common topics make up the bulk of phone calls. Clients are commonly looking for assistance with utility bills or affordable childcare. But the biggest need in Mesa County, representing 86 percent of calls, is food. Getting food stamps can take up to 60 days, and in the meantime, many hungry people call Western Colorado 2-1-1—which generally refers them to faith-based organizations that are stepping up to meet the needs in Mesa County.

Cracks in the System

Last year, Western Colorado 2-1-1 received 13,500 calls. The organization was unable to offer any sort of assistance to 682 callers, because those services were either unavailable or unknown in the region. Among these 682 callers, Brockman noticed a trend—a major need that is not being met. She said that hunger is not always the root of the problem in Mesa County; often it is a symptom of the problem.

What happens to people in a rural community when they can’t even navigate the area to look for a job or find food for their families? Cars are expensive, both to own and to operate. This is how Brockman described it:  If people cannot pay for gas or insurance in a town that lacks decent public transportation, they might be unable to get to work on time or at all. If people cannot work and cannot make a living, they cannot buy food.

This was a light bulb moment for me. All too often we do not think of all of the steps that go into getting us to the grocery store to buy what we need for dinner. If I don’t have the money to pay for the fees and maintenance of my only means of transportation—my car—this can truly have a domino effect on my life.

My visit to Western Colorado 2-1-1 was more than informative. It reminded me of just how important it is to not just make grants but to actually follow up on the dollars given to ensure that the funds are effectively used. It is critical that funders remember that solutions to community problems are rarely generated from outside that community, but rather from within it by leaders like Brockman.

*Western Colorado 2-1-1 serves Delta, Eagle, Garfield, Gunnison, Lake, Mesa, Montrose, Pitkin, Archuleta, Dolores, Hinsdale, La Plata, Montezuma, Ouray, San Juan, and San Miguel counties.

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