TELLURIDE, Colo. (March 26, 2020) – For some students, adjusting to school closures can be a challenge. Now, imagine dealing with this new style of remote learning, being socially isolated and losing your sense of routine, all on an empty stomach.
On average, across our region’s five school districts, twenty five percent of our student population qualify for the state’s free or reduced lunch program. In the west end of Montrose County that number jumps to fifty three percent. That is approximately 500 students being fed a hot meal every day at school (at some schools, breakfast is also served). When the schools are physically closed, but are still expected to teach, school administrators are in clearly in unchartered territory when it comes to feeding students.
The Telluride Foundation recently reached out to each of these schools to ask how they were addressing this challenge and to offer our assistance where needed. The stories we heard from each community are amazing and worthy of celebration. From private business owners opening their otherwise shuddered storefronts to help with lunch distribution, to community members volunteering their time to help make and distribute lunches, to local food banks working around the clock to ensure no child goes hungry, this challenge is being addressed through the generosity and innovation of the people who live and work in our region.
In Norwood, Spencer Cooper and Lana Ouellette, owners of Maggie’s Pizza, turned their pizzeria into a hub for the daily distribution of bagged lunches. Normally open for lunch, they had to close their restaurant during the day to homeschool their own children; but rather than leave their restaurant dark, they donated their space to the school district to provide a central location for lunch pick-up. They distributed on average 30 lunches per day. Concerned that some students were not taking advantage of these free lunches due the stigma associated with needing help, school district staff are hand-delivering lunches to those students they know need them. “It’s important that families understand that these lunches are available to everyone. It’s not just for students on free and reduced lunch programs. Every student in the community is welcome to stop by and grab a lunch” said Leslie Stropko, Director of Food Service for the Norwood School District.
In Nucla, with the support of the Nucla Baptist Church, the West End Family Link (the community food bank), and many volunteers, 76 bags of food (including today’s lunch and tomorrow’s breakfast) were distributed to students on the first day the program was offered, Monday, March 23rd. The second day, 93 lunches were distributed. It is expected that this number will grow to over 100 and will continue until school reopens.
In Telluride, a member of the school board donated $10,000 to the district to support their school lunch program. Telluride Middle-High School is not only serving lunches every day but also collaborating with the towns of Rico and the Mountain Village to deliver lunch to students in those communities, so families do not have to commute to feed their children. Kari Distefano, Rico’s Town Manger has arranged for volunteers to drive the 55-mile round trip journey over to Telluride to pick up the lunches each day. Marti Prohaska, Mountain Village Town Council member, has taken the lead and deployed the resources at the Mountain Village Transit Department to ensure lunches are delivered each day in her community.
In Ouray, there has been a collaborative effort between the school district, the Ouray Public Library, and the Artisan Bakery. Erin and Trevor Latta, owners of the bakery, are still open for take-out business and are gathering supplies from throughout the community as well as using their own bakery items to put together healthy lunches for Ouray students, serving about 17 free lunch bags each day.
In Ridgway, Taco del Gnar is serving free lunches to students. No one asked Chas Blanton, the owner of Taco del Gnar specifically to do it; she just knew kids were not being fed at school so decided to help. Taco del Gnar is also open for takeout, and residents can call (970) 626-9715 to order lunch or dinner and support an establishment that is supporting their community.
All of the communities in the region are planning to continue offering free lunches to students until the schools reopen. Given the fact that school closures could last for quite some time, this is a considerable commitment. If you would like to help by volunteering your time or making a donation to any of the school district’s efforts to feed their students, please contact Elaine Demas at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Telluride Foundation exists to create a stronger Telluride and regional community through the promotion and support of philanthropy. 2020 marks 20 years of making more possible through the Telluride Foundation’s commitment to enrich the quality of life of the residents, visitors and workforce of the Telluride region. The Telluride Foundation is a nonprofit, apolitical community foundation that makes grants to nonprofits, owns and operates programs that meet emerging and unmet community needs, and makes investments. The Foundation approaches this work through the lens of its core values of inclusion, self-reliance, and innovation. Its work is funded through the generous support of individual donors as well as grants from state and national foundations. The Foundation hopes the community will join it in celebrating its 20th anniversary as it honors the nonprofits, donors, and community members who have all partnered together to achieve a significant positive impact on the region. For more information click on www.telluridefoundation.org.