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The Backpack program of Elizabeth has been helping families in need of food for several years.
“Fifty kids in the county literally go home with no food each weekend,” said Robert Rowland, who took over the program last year.
The Walmart in Elizabeth supplies food items for the program, with the food taken home from school by kids to their families each Friday.
“The stuff they get is high-quality food — beans, corn, beef,” Rowland said.
“They do this as a good corporation and neighbor of the community, without any recognition,” he said of Walmart's contributions.
The Elizabeth church at which Rowland is a member, Harvest Bible Church, already had a food pantry called Helping Hands of Harvest, which is open from 9 to 11 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
When Rowland's tenure as an Elbert County commissioner ended in January, the church approached him to head up a program that would align the Helping Hands of Harvest food pantry with the Food Bank of the Rockies in order to meet a greater need.
Rowland became the designated food coordinator for the food bank and pantry.
He studied for the new role, taking courses in food safety and paperwork management specific to operating a food bank.
“We are kind of getting in the food bank business” he said.
Rowland said that operating a food bank requires that very specific standards be met. When folks arrive at the food pantry, he said, they can “self-declare their level of need.”
However, the Food Bank of the Rockies has protocols that it uses to quantify the needs of each family.
Part of the process of establishing the food bank included remodeling the entire upper level of a building the church owns, located next to Running Creek Elementary School. The church had volunteers put up sheetrock and install the wiring. It spent $15,000 to finish the top floor of the building, which had once been Army barracks and now serves the Harvest Bible Church offices on the bottom level and the food bank on the upper level.
In addition to the generosity of the church in contributing and refurbishing the facilities, the Food Bank of Rockies provided a grant to purchase two large stainless steel refrigerators and expansive shelves.
Now that the Harvest Food Bank is officially opened, there are two main programs being employed.
The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) supplies food for families in need according to family size and other verifiable criteria.
“The more people in the family, the higher the threshold for service,” Rowland said.
The second program is Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), serving senior citizens over the age of 60.
While Helping Hands of Harvest receives much of its food from Walmart and other donations, the Food Bank of the Rockies supplies the food for the Harvest Food Bank.
“I put in an order and it comes to us on a truck,” Rowland explained.
Rowland and the team of volunteers continue to refine the process for the pantry and food bank in order to meet the clients' needs as much as possible.
“Starting in late June we're going to be expanding the hours to provide later sessions,” he said.
“We really think we have a real opportunity,” Rowland said, “to be a real player to make an impact in the county.”
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