Noreen Perri of Mt. Carmel

Noreen Perri of Mt. Carmel Wellness and Community Center delivers a food box to a recipient’s home. Nutritious food boxes contain enough items to prepare six meals for a family of four.

A food box program that will provide 60,000 meals to Trinidad residents in need of relief through the end of 2021 recently drew the attention and sponsorship of “Strong Arm,” philanthropist Franklin Azar.

The Mt. Carmel Wellness and Community Center announced the continuation of its program, which was born through the need for COVID-19 relief and is now in its second year, in mid-March and announced the latest sponsor to come on board was Franklin D. Azar and Associates.

“It really bothers me that in our society today, that people can’t get something to eat and that’s been a problem down there,” Azar, a Trinidad native, told KRDO in an interview. “I can’t sleep at night.”

Azar said Trinidad and its 20 percent poverty rate don’t get enough attention.

“People just don’t know how hard-hit rural Colorado is,” he told the television station.

Currently, Las Animas County places the lowest of the 6o ranked counties in Colorado for overall health outcome ranking, according to the Population Health Institute.

Mt. Carmel Community Center Manager Ashley DiPaola conceived the food box program in March 2020, which was made possible by initial seed funding from the El Pomar Foundation.

Within three weeks, the food box distribution went from 10 boxes per week to 30 boxes per week to meet requests from local residents.

The program’s goal was to provide food to individuals who were most affected by the pandemic. Now, one year later, the community is still in need, with 60 percent of the residents in Las Animas County on a food assistance program, according to Mt. Carmel.

By the end of 2021, Mt. Carmel said they will distribute over 60,000 total meals as a result of the program.

“When we began to discuss the idea for the program last year, I kept thinking, why only do one or two meals per person when we could create something more impactful? That’s when we developed the idea of weekly food boxes,” said DiPaola. “When it first started, people were walking miles from their homes just to get a food box.”

Items for the food boxes are sourced from local vendors and delivered weekly on Mondays. Within hours, Mt. Carmel’s staff member’s pack the food boxes and distribution takes place on Tuesdays with contactless pickup. Delivery is also available for individuals without transportation said Mt. Carmel.

The program supports anyone in need of food, including seniors, veterans and families, and is actively promoted in area churches, schools and by Salud Family Health. DiPaola noted how one grateful woman who was about to spend her last ten dollars on food for her children when she received her first food box.

“We had initially expected this program to be temporary at the start of COVID-19; however, as the pandemic continues, the need has not diminished,” said DiPaola. “We are so humbled to be able to continue to help the community in this way.”

Each box includes enough food to prepare six meals for a family of four, 24 individual meals per box. Several types of meat, an assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables, a week’s worth of cereals, milk, bread, eggs and other nutritious meal components are provided in each box, as well as healthy recipes to utilize the ingredients. Food boxes also come with several non-food items such as toothbrushes, floss, puzzles, learning resources for children, and more. Boxes weigh nearly 50 pounds each, and cost an average of $100 to $120 per box.

According to Mt. Carmel, Azar’s recent support for the program joins funds received from COVID-19 relief grants, United Way of Pueblo, Catholic Diocese, DHS Food Pantry Assistance, Colorado Blueprint to End Hunger, San Isabel Electronic Association, Basin Electric Power Cooperative and other local businesses and individuals.

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