Our Community Foundation: Food justice warriors come in all shapes and sizes
Editor’s note: The Vail Daily is launching two new columns in the month of April. The Vail Valley Charitable Fund will have a column that runs in the paper the first Friday of each month while Our Community Foundation will have a column that runs the third Friday of each month.
On the morning of Declan’s eighth birthday party, he walked into his parents’ room holding a crumpled dollar bill. He had fished the dollar out of his piggy bank, where he keeps his chore money.
Declan proudly presented the dollar to his mom, Vicki Flynn, and told her to keep it safe.
“He came into my room and said ‘Mom, don’t forget this today because it’s my donation to the food bank,” and he handed me the dollar,” Flynn said.
Declan is, in many ways, a typical 8-year-old kid. He loves “Star Wars” and goofing around. Not so typical, however, were his plans for his birthday party.
“When we started talking about his birthday, he said all he wanted to do was get a bunch of his friends and go to the food bank to volunteer,” Flynn said.
He was referring to the Eagle River Valley Food Bank in Gypsum, a project of Our Community Foundation.
“We volunteered at the food bank with The Cycle Effect back in December and he absolutely loved it,” Flynn said. “I mean he wanted to go back like every day.”
Flynn said that, since volunteering at the food bank back in December, Declan had become increasingly aware of the inequalities around him and began asking questions.
“Declan has been talking about that kind of stuff a lot lately, you know, just realizing that there are people that can’t afford food and can’t afford all of the things that he has,” Flynn said.
To Declan, complex social justice issues like affordable food access and food insecurity simply require focus and hard work to be solved, much like a math problem at school.
“He asks a lot of questions about people less fortunate than us,” Flynn said. “It’s something that he’s definitely aware of so he just wants to help.”
When his mom asked him what he wanted to do for his birthday, he saw his chance. They rounded up nine of his closest friends and came in to the Eagle River Valley Food Bank for cake, pizza and some after-hours volunteering.
“Walking in that day he was just so focused,” Flynn said.
And focused he was — not on finding where we had hidden the cake or even on the pile of presents that the other kids had brought for him, but on executing the tasks at hand with more diligence than most adult volunteers.
As he and his friends repackaged rice, beans, and peanut butter into smaller containers for distribution, he carefully surveyed the rest of the group to make sure they were staying on task and helped his little sister, Gigi, to make sure she sealed the Ziplock bags properly.
When it came time for him to present his donation to the food bank team, he did so with a small, shy smile.
“It was really important to him, he wanted to be able to give it to you guys himself,” Flynn said. “… I was very proud of him.”
When the kids had finished their work, food bank staff began explaining the importance of making healthy, fresh food available and affordable to all members of our community. It was at this point of the conversation that little Gigi, only 5, thrust her hand in the air wiggling with excitement.
“So people come here to get food when they can’t buy it, I get that,” She said with a deepening furrow in her brow. “But what happens if they don’t have a car?”
In just a few minutes, she internalized the information she had been given and was already looking at the big picture. Gigi was relieved to learn about the food bank’s mobile market program, which brings food directly into low-income communities from Avon to Dotsero.
“It definitely makes me happy that they look at life that way and want to make a difference,” Flynn said. “And now, of course, Gigi wants to have her birthday party at the food bank too.”
The problems that face our community can seem too big and complicated for young minds like Declan and Gigi. But it’s important to take the time, every once in a while, to step back and consider these problems through the eyes of a child, with a pure heart and an open mind.
To learn more about the Eagle River Valley Food Bank, visit ourcommunityfoundation.org.
Kelli Duncan is a marketing and volunteer coordinator with the Eagle River Valley Food Bank, a project of Our Community Foundation.