New home for CARES pantry
Move April 17 also begins collaboration at LLC’s Westside Center

       The first sign of the coming change at the Westside Community Center will be evident Saturday, April 17, when Westside CARES plans to move its food pantry there.

Three of Westside CARES pantry volunteers are (from left) Kittie Kerr, Oleta Young and Robert Marvin. They are shown in its 26-year home in the basement of Bethany Baptist Church.
Westside Pioneer photo

       The pantry provides emergency allotments of mostly non-perishable food to 30 to 50 households during the four hours a week it's open (two hours each on Wednesday and Thursday). It has been in the Bethany Baptist Church basement, 1930 W. Colorado Ave., for the past 26 years.
       The planned relocation is part of a new collaboration between Westside CARES and Woodmen Valley Chapel's community outreach arm (named “A Call to Serve” - ACTS), which has reached an agreement in principle to lease the center at 1628 W. Bijou St from City Parks for the next three years.
       Stephen Brown, executive director of the non-profit emergency assistance agency, said the move has been in the works for a few weeks, but was timed for Saturday morning because ACTS has recruited a number of Air Force Academy cadets to help out. Also, he said, “we've got the loan of the truck and driver from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.”
       Other CARES operations will remain at Bethany. Also unchanged will be the CARES-led pantries during the week offered at three other churches, Brown said.
       The pantry move will not be the only activity on the center site April 17. According to Dick Siever, head of ACTS, the group also will be moving the rent-free Rock Ledge Ranch Living History Association's period clothing storage/office to a smaller space (to make room for Westside CARES); in addition, there will be a grounds clean-up, including preparation for a 25-car parking lot in the northwest part of the property.
       Brown said his agency appreciates receiving free basement space from Bethany Baptist all these years and the pantry has been geographically useful by being near a bus line; however, the Westside Center location has two distinct advantages:
  • Being on the ground floor (clients have been known to fall down the church's basement stairs, and CARES volunteers now have to lug about 20 tons of food up and down them)
  • Being close to the Billie Spielman Center (which provides Westside CARES pantry vouchers to clients as part of a range of “family stabilization” services).
           Spielman is located in the easternmost of the community center's three-building complex, while Westside CARES' pantry will move into a room in the westernmost.
           “Woodmen made a real low-cost price for us for square footage just to get us in there,” Brown said. “It provides a real nice synergy for us to be that close to Billie Spielman. They generate 40 percent of the vouchers we honor.” He continued that “it's a real bonus in a lot of ways - a benefit for anyone who has trouble with the stairs, and it's closer to the other activities at the community center.”
           Those activities are still being defined, but ACTS (doing business as the Westside Community Center LLC) also has informal collaborative arrangements in place with Spielman, Greccio Housing (affordable housing), Silver Key (services for seniors, including free transportation) and Peak Vista (medical aid for the indigent).
           Jim Faber, director of Pikes Peak Community Action Agency (which runs Billie Spielman), said the pantry could be just the start of synchronized efforts that, “if we do this the right way, could provide a sort of one-stop shopping” for the needy. “If you pull it together in one location, there could be a lot of synergies and an economy of scale,” he added. “I applaud Woodmen Valley Chapel for taking the lead on this.”
           Another plus from the pantry relocation will be more economical use of the CARES space in the Bethany basement. The pantry will free up 750 square feet for other agency efforts and storage that now occur in an area with poor ventilation, Brown said.
           The Westside CARES pantry is staffed, in rotation, by people from three Westside churches - Bethany Lutheran, Gateway Presbyterian and Christ The King Lutheran. Volunteers are also there when the pantry isn't open, sorting and packaging the food into allotments for families.
           In 2009, the Bethany pantry provided food for a total of 3,400 adults and 942 children (some of them more than once), Brown said.
           Siever said he could not say for certain that the pantry relocation would be completed April 17. For one thing, he wasn't even sure mid-week how many Air Force cadets he would have in the planned 9 a.m. to noon time frame (because of a mix-up in their squadron's community service plans). But he was trying to get all the help he could, including members of his church. He also said he welcomes community members who might want to pitch in, noting that they would be covered by ACTS' medical insurance.
           Siever identified one possible “catch” in the April 17 plans, which is that the contract between the city and the LLC likely will not have been signed yet (because of a few remaining “nits,” as he put it, between the city's and church's lawyers). But the workday with the cadets had been planned weeks ago, when it seemed certain that the contract would easily be done by now. Siever said he has no reason to think the contract will fall through at this point - nor does the city, it appears, because it's given him approval to go ahead with the workday. However, he noted for the record that if for any reason the contract does not happen, “everything at the center will be put back the way it was.”

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