SOUTHERN COLORADO — As families continue to deal with rising food prices, they're turning to organizations that can help, but some of the them are struggling to get enough donations.
Just east of Pueblo on a small farm in Fowler, Jeff Cully and Cindy Olivarius with the Leaning Tree Micro Farm are working to produce more than 20K pounds of food this year for organizations in need.
"We both have our reasons for helping. I started in Quaker schools starting in fifth grade so I've worked with non-profit organizations since I was a kid," said Cully.
"We were poor, I've been there. Having nice things is a luxury to most people, especially with the economy now. If we can provide a little bit of happiness to their life with our produce, it makes me feel good. I love donating, and I know there are many people in need," said Olivarius.
They've been donating fresh food to surrounding organizations for the last three years — all hopes of helping those struggling in the community.
"The number of people needing help has gone way up. Rents across the nationwide are up, there are a variety of economic factors that have hurt a lot of people. It is nothing new but it is much worse than it used to be," said Cully. "We've had a great response to the Salvation Army during the last couple of seasons, especially since we donated 7,300 lbs. That is not a lot, we are a micro farm, but that made a big difference."
With record high inflation and organizations feeling the pressure, they've expanded the farm, installed three miles of new drip, and growing more crops.
"A couple of years ago, there were a couple of farms bringing stuff to the Pueblo Salvation Army, but COVID's caused issues with production, economic issues, diesel prices are up, and fertilizer is up," said Cully. "I know it is a lot of work, and I understand why people can't or won't do it, but we've had some success locally and getting other people involved with donation problems.
Their goal is to produce 15K lbs of food for the Salvation Army Pueblo, and between 5K lbs and 6K lbs for Kids Crossing (La Junta) for this year.
"During COVID, donations seemed to go up a little bit — following the pandemic donations have gone down quite a bit. We're down $60,000 from 2021 to 2022," said Captain Mark Cyr, Salvation Army Pueblo.
"Anytime that we receive food donations, we try to spread the wealth as much as possible. We want to make sure each family receives an even amount or their household size. Typically, we don't receive fresh items that we're going to receive from Leaning Tree Micro Farm which is exciting. A lot of the donations that we receive food wise are during the holidays," said Ashley Paugh, Recruitment and Retention, Kids Crossing (La Junta).
Salvation Army Pueblo serves food for over 200 families monthly. Some of their biggest needs are fresh fruit, vegetables, and meat items.
"The Leaning Tree Micro Farm comes to help us out a lot during season, and that is what we like to provide. We have a lot of pasta and canned foods, but it is not very healthy for families. We like to provide those other items as well," said Cyr.
"It is healthy for the children, but since it is local it gives them a chance to experience it in a new way. Noticing more of where it comes from, how it relates to our geographical area, and what are local businesses do," said Paugh.
"A lot of the times, children get to try new things they haven't before," said Myra Pacheco, Home Coordinator, Kids Crossing (La Junta).
While the farm is doing their part, more is needed to help the entire community.
"Get involved, help out. Even if it is a small gesture, large donation, going through your cupboard or closet. There is a huge need, especially with the kids, and we are here to help them," said Cully.