Creating Miracles Every Day: Care and Share Food Bank

Jun 26, 2023 | Case Studies, Client Spotlight, Creativity and Innovation, Feature, Feature-Food Insecurity, Great Nonprofit Examples | 0 comments

In Southern Colorado, one in nine people faces hunger. Care and Share Food Bank works hard to get neighbors the food they need to survive and thrive. Last year they distributed 17 million meals to more than 200,000 people. But they’re committed to doing even more.

Care and Share Food Bank’s core purpose is to bridge the gap between hunger and abundance.  The nonprofit was founded in 1972 by Sister Dominique Pisciotta who was moved to action when she saw people in her own community struggling with hunger. Care and Share began by distributing food baskets from volunteers’ basements and a two-car garage. Today they provide millions of pounds of food to 290+ partner agencies throughout 29 Southern Colorado counties, working from distribution centers in Colorado Springs, Alamosa, and Pueblo. The organization’s 72 employees are supported by a 15-member board and volunteers who log more than 44,000 hours each year.

“I love Care and Share — they’re a fabulous client to work with,” says Creation in Common Project Consultant, Laura Venhaus. “Everybody there creates miracles on a daily basis for hungry people with very few resources. Everyone seems to be working at their full capacity, doing amazing things.”

Last fall Care and Share received a Reach and Resiliency Grant from The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), a federal program managed by the USDA. The State of Colorado’s goal is to increase the amount of TEFAP food, the government commodity food, in five targeted rural counties selected by the State. Rather than arbitrarily distributing food to the counties, Care and Share is working with Creation in Common to listen to people on the front lines — neighbors, community stakeholders, and local agencies. Together, we’re investigating and evaluating the best, most efficient ways to feed more people in those counties. 

“We no longer can exist in a space where we just pour food out to people. That’s not actual hunger relief. What I want hunger relief to look like for our organization is really listening to the people we serve.”

Shannon Coker — COO, Share and Care Food Bank

The massive effort includes tools such as focus groups, surveys, individual Zoom interviews, and listening sessions to discover what daily life is like for the partner agencies and neighbors, their relationships with the food bank, and the unique strengths and barriers of each county. Most importantly, we’re trying to discover how Care and Share can shape their services to better serve the communities.

Care and Share COO Shannon Coker says she is excited by Creation in Common’s research-based approach and ability to pivot and ask questions in a way that generates conversation. “The other really cool thing that Creation in Common is doing is talking to the community beyond just the neighbors and agencies that we serve,” notes Shannon. “They’re visiting places like VFW organizations and libraries  to help us understand who we’re not serving, why, and how we can help them.” Historically there are many reasons why people don’t access food, including stigma and lack of transportation. Shannon hopes that digging into those reasons will help Care and Share reduce the barriers or even eliminate them.

This effort aligns perfectly with one of Care and Share’s core philosophies: providing what people want in the way they want it. “We believe no one should go hungry,” Shannon explains, “But we want to meet people where they’re at, and ensure that they have food that is meaningful to them. That might mean culturally relevant food, or rather than just assuming that everybody likes white rice, asking what they’d like. Maybe that’s brown rice; maybe that’s tea.”

The project with Creation in Common launched in November 2022 and took about a year to complete. It unfolded in several phases, with each phase informing the next. The initial discovery phase provided information on the organization and the communities themselves. The community partner phase involved soliciting feedback, ideas, and information from Care and Share’s partner agencies in each county — mostly food pantries or church meal programs. During the most critical phase of the project we listened to community stakeholders and engaged neighbors experiencing food insecurity in one-on-one interviews and, when appropriate, informal gatherings. 

In January 2024, we began the process of engaging neighbors in El Paso county, which is home to nearly 750,000 people. Care and Share’s ultimate dream is to evaluate all 29 of the counties they serve. They would like all of their work to be more informed by the neighbors themselves rather than what the food bank thinks people need.

“My hope and dream is that neighbors who need food assistance get what is meaningful to them,” says Shannon. “To help them become whatever it is that they want to be, and that they have the nourishment they need to thrive. It all starts with listening.”

To find food, donate, or learn more about Care and Share Food Bank, visit careandshare.org.

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