Pine river shares with everyone

Shyla Dijos serves Gage Shurbert a plate full of food during the free summer lunch program on Thursday, July 25 at the Education Literacy Health and Inspiration Community Center in Ignacio, Colo.
The Free Lunch Program is sponsored by the Friends with Food group.
McKayla Lee | The Southern Ute Drum
McKayla Lee | The Southern Ute Drum

Pine River Shares (PRS) has been committed to helping over 14,000 people who live within “two nations, seven communities and several villages,” Pine River Shares Coordinator Pam Willhoite stated.

When PRS originally formed it began as a program that will work to engage communities. At the very first meeting in 2013, everyone who lives within the Pine River Valley was invited to share their concerns and expectations for PRS. “The meeting highlighted the need for access to affordable healthcare, living wage jobs, transportation and how to work in geographic isolation– this is what we want and what we are working towards,” Willhoite emphasized.

As the program has grown over the past seven years, so has the involvement. They now offer multiple food programs, skill sharing, family support and resource mapping. All these programs are operating in several small rural communities (i.e. Tiffany, Arboles and Allison, Colo.) and are offered to anyone in need.

“Food is not in our mission, but it is one of our barriers,” Willhoite stated. “Access to affordable healthy food is a necessity through community dinners, back pack programs, cooking classes, garden projects and an independent food shed in the Pine River Valley are ways that we’re working towards to end food insecurity.”

Not only does this mean that PRS can help you and your family but they also encourage you to help others. According to their website, PRS believes everyone has something to share and that through community-based leadership projects it will unite people, allowing shared knowledge, skills and resources with one another.

“We know that the people most impacted by a problem are the most qualified to solve it and positive social change occurs when we increase our collective power,” Whillhoite expressed. PRS operates as a constituent-led organization meaning that all decisions are made through a consensus and each program undergoes a fine-tuning process to meet the needs of families. They are an independent project that are fiscally sponsored by the Community Foundation serving Southwest Colorado.

Four years ago, PRS began working with the youth community in Ignacio, Colo. Through Ignacio High School they were able to find youth leaders who were willing to volunteer and start the very first food pantry. They are now known as “Friends with Food”; the group currently has eight students operating the pantry. All the students are currently in their senior year and are actively looking for younger students to pass the responsibility to.

“This began as a way for us to help, because our district has a huge amount of kids who don’t have enough to eat or can’t afford food,” Friends with Food Volunteer Hannah Cundiff explained. These free lunches are filling a need that was left once the Ignacio School District ended its summer lunch program due to low participation.

The Friends with Food group found so much success and support that this summer they were able to offer a free lunch program for kids. Working out of the Education Literacy Health and Inspiration Community Center, they began serving food on Monday, June 10 which will end Thursday, August 8. The program is a collaborative effort between Pine River Shares, Ignacio’s Friends with Food and the ELHI Community Center without them it would not be possible to serve the kids in the community. “We don’t want kids going hungry so we offer this to everyone—seeing the need in our high school and the community made us want to help more,” Shyla Dijos shared.

The same members who started Friends with Food are planning to start a new program that will supply the girl’s bathroom with feminine products. “We want the community to know that were going to be hosting a pad drive soon and that this will not only benefit the girls in the community, but we think it will increase attendance for the school—as we noticed most girls will take time off from school because they are unable to access certain products,” Friends with Food Volunteer, Victoria Riehl stated.

“I see these [youth] leaders expanding their reach—they’re deepening their understanding through the work they do,” Willhoite stated. Their work is made possible by the help of the Colorado Health Foundation “They understand that social determinedness drives change—they’ve believed in us since the beginning.”





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