June 28, 2012
by Mary Callaghan

Mary Callaghan is a Field Services Manager for Feeding America and happened to be visiting the Care and Share Food Bank of Southern Colorado when the fires broke out.

The smell is everywhere. Smoke. It reminds me of happy childhood memories of camp - roasting hotdogs and marshmallows.

The constant smoke haze hanging over Colorado Springs is unlikely to have the same pleasant associations for residents living through what is being called the biggest disaster in the city's history. Nine square miles are on fire. Houses have been lost. The most recent estimate of evacuees is 32,000 and growing. At night, you can see the flames in the distance.

In the midst of all this chaos, Care and Share Food Bank of Southern Colorado is working in full disaster mode. Relief efforts started on Saturday, and most food bank staff have worked 5 days in a row of early mornings, busy days, and late nights.

Care and Share offered its services as a warehouse and distribution hub to take in donations from the public. Non-perishable food and personal care items are pouring in from local residents who drop off their donations at the food bank. In just a few days, they've taken in nearly 500,000 pounds to help those in need. Aisles of the warehouse that were empty yesterday are now filled with pallets of product, or assembly lines to make family pantry boxes or snack boxes for firefighters. These much-needed supplies are moving across the city to families who will need to rebuild their lives in the days and weeks ahead.

Why am I here? I work in Chicago for Feeding America. For months, this visit to Colorado Springs has been scheduled on my calendar. I arrived here Monday with a colleague ready to complete a 3-day audit visit, assessing the health of this organization and confirming that it meets the standards to be a member of the Feeding America network.

Audit visit. Sounds like it might be boring, doesn't it? Not this time. The goal of our visit quickly shifted to providing support to the food bank's staff during the disaster, and we're even staying on extra days to help out. My first encounter with disaster response is providing me with the best proof ever about the capacity of Care and Share and its staff. It's huge, and seemingly limitless.

I'm amazed their dedication. Some staff members are still working at the warehouse even though they've been evacuated from their homes because of the fire. They are juggling middle of the night calls from the media, scheduling and directing hundreds of volunteers, and managing the logistics of getting those 500,000 pounds back out the door with a situation that changes by the minute.

In a status meeting today, Care and Share's President and CEO, Lynne Telford, gently reminded her staff that what they are experiencing is a marathon, not a sprint. They have days and weeks to come of emergency and recovery work. After the last few days and what I've seen, I have no doubt that Care and Share will reach the finish line — and that's a good thing for the community of Colorado Springs.

Tags: Disaster Response

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