AmeriCorps joins Vail Valley to fight food insecurity

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The civil society program commits a team to help The Salvation Army combat hunger.

By Caramie Petrowsky –

Shawn Bruckman discusses the day’s plan with the AmeriCorps NCCC team. | Photo by Meighen Lovelace

Ten AmeriCorps team members have been hard at work in Eagle County, Colo., since mid-April, helping The Salvation Army Vail Valley and other community organizations reach a common goal: food security.

Connecting talented applicants with compelling projects in communities where they’ll be positioned to do the best work takes time, said Misty Dingus, member of AmeriCorps NCCC Sun 2, the team working in Eagle County now. “The reason they chose this project is because we’re so stretched out over the community,” Dingus said. “We’re making a larger impact than we would be if we were working with just one organization in one part of the county.”

Since its arrival, the AmeriCorps team completed the internal construction of a new on-site greenhouse at The Salvation Army that will allow the center to grow fresh food for clients year round. Last year, The Salvation Army secured two grants totaling $20,000, which funded the greenhouse. While volunteers assembled the building earlier this year, plenty of work remained, which is where the AmeriCorps team came in.

“They built the infrastructure for the greenhouse—the potting tables, the bins that will house the plants,” said Meighen Lovelace, coordinator of Mountain Harvest, a project of the Vail Valley Salvation Army.. “They cleaned and organized and took inventory of stock—what we had and didn’t have. It was almost like having a construction crew on site. They even brought their own tools.”

The Salvation Army Vail Valley has an on-site, fenced-in community garden with 24 plots and drip irrigation, which are used to serve clients. There, the staff educates them on how to grow their own food, with self-sufficiency as the ultimate goal.

Team members Andrew Myers, Quinn Reynolds and Brianca Jackson work together to build a growing bed for the Vail Valley Salvation Army’s new on-site greenhouse. | Photo courtesy of AmeriCorps
Team members Andrew Myers, Quinn Reynolds and Brianca Jackson work together to build a growing bed for the Vail Valley Salvation Army’s new on-site greenhouse. | Photo courtesy of AmeriCorps

The AmeriCorps team got these existing garden beds ready for the growing season and put in an additional eight raised beds. For the AmeriCorps team, this assignment differed drastically from their two prior assignments, which mostly involved tutoring and mentoring youth.

“You don’t get to see those results right away,” Dingus said. “Yesterday, we dug a five-foot trench for the winter irrigation system to get plumbing to the greenhouse, so we’re definitely seeing more tangible results now.”

The team also helped out at The Salvation Army’s front desk, meeting clients and seeing firsthand how their work will impact the community.

“That interaction with clients has opened their eyes to the need in the community and makes it that much more special for them to be here,” Lovelace said.

In addition to their work with the Army, the team spent time with other local community gardens, including the Colorado State University Extension Garden and another at the Edwards Colorado Mountain College campus. They’re also helping organize a youth soccer program called COPA through the Vail Valley Foundation’s YouthPower365 program. In June, they’ll support a Summer Lunch program at three local schools sponsored by InteGreat!, which served 7,703 meals during its inaugural year in 2015.

The Salvation Army is lending its support to the Summer Lunch program in return, growing lettuce for the salad bar and rallying volunteers and awareness for the initiative.

“We want to make sure everyone knows that program is in place and that there’s a place where kids can eat for free in the summer,” Lovelace said.

The 10 AmeriCorps team members will split up into teams at each school, Dingus said, fanning out to help with everything from cooking to making sure kids get off the buses and to the site safely. Along with receiving a healthy lunch, kids can take part in an enrichment program, with activities ranging from music and story times, to arts and crafts and organized sports.

“The summer lunch program isn’t just a meal,” Dingus said. “[It’s] time for the kids to get out and have fun as well.”

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