One of Buena Vista’s longest running food assistance programs is seeking additional volunteers and funding support. The Backpack food program serves between 60 and 75 youth every week and has been in operation for over a decade.
“We do breakfast, lunch and dinner for 2 days, Saturday and Sunday,” said program coordinator Ken Rehborn. “That’s the point of this, so that they’re not hungry at the weekend.”
Rehborn said he took over the program 7 years ago when the previous coordinator moved away.
On Thursday morning, Dec. 16, a half dozen or so junior Optimist Club members from Chaffee County High School gathered with a handful of adult volunteers to pack bags from the program’s storage pantry at Congregational United Church of Christ.
“We store all the food here and this is where the packing is done. But it’s not really a religious project. It’s sort of a community thing,” said Helen Duncan, the program’s outreach committee chairwoman.
The program relies primarily on volunteer efforts and donations for operations and funding, she said.
“This year I applied for a grant through the Chaffee County Community Foundation and got $2,000. But I hope we don’t have to apply for grants every year,” said Duncan.
Funding comes from private donors and local organizations, such as New Bee’s Thrift Store, Monarch Quilters, and several organizations working through Grace Church.
A self-contained program that runs strictly on volunteer labor and community donations avoids red tape that often comes part and parcel with food assistance programs.
“It’s really quite open. They used to have a signup sheet where you had to list your income and your phone number and your name. I said you know what? Let’s just feed kids. So I got away from all that,” said Rehborn. “You need 70 meals? I’ll get the groceries for 2 weeks for 70 meals. And then I just put in for reimbursement.”
School teachers and staff help Rehborn adjust the number of meals prepared. He coordinates with Winchell and others at the beginning of each school year to plan and regularly thereafter to adjust.
Food is packed Thursday mornings and taken by CCHS Junior Optimists to CCHS and the Grove preschool, which doesn’t hold class sessions on Fridays. Adult volunteers deliver to the BV Boys & Girls Club on Friday.
More volunteers are desired for food organizing and packing on Thursdays and donations are needed to ensure the program continues to operate.
“We take food donations, or prepared food items. Any monetary donations are always appreciated. The checks need to be made out to CUCC and memoed Backpack Program,” said Rehborn.