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RMSER in the San Luis Valley takes its direction from community

Miriam Barela doesn’t take for granted that she knows what her community needs.
As the San Luis Valley Manager for Rocky Mountain SER, her job is large. RMSER serves five counties – Conejos, Costilla, Rio Grande, Mineral and Alamosa – all in the valley where Barela grew up. Each of these counties is similar in that they have large landmass and small populations centered around small, often historic towns. This creates struggles for residents typical for rural residents. They must travel long distances to get groceries. The grocery stores that are closer ask premium prices because of demand. Families struggle to find work and experience poverty.

These counties are also rich in tradition, with many communities existing before Colorado was a state and home to generations of families that chart their own heritage to the founding of those towns. It’s here the Barela draws on her own tradition to ask the right questions and come to the right answers about what her community members struggling with food access want.

“I ask some of our families what they want, sand I hear, ‘We really need oil next month,’” Barela said. “They are grateful for whatever you can give them, but if you take the time to ask the right questions and listen, you can learn what they really need. I go directly to the people and ask them what they can use. I am part of the culture and I know how to have these conversations.”

Barela remembers when she began her work in the valley. Many people told her about the success of a program in Pueblo that provided Starbucks coffee and pastries and suspected she could replicate that in the valley. She didn’t doubt that people would appreciate the food, but she suspected they might want something a little different. Beans, flour and oil and some diced tomatoes, she thought. And she was right.

Today, RMSER helps more than 500 households in the valley counties it serves through mobile food distribution as well as food pantries and food boxes. The group manages programs to provide Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) for Rio Grande County and is likely to take over management of those programs for Costilla County as well.

Barela is proud of what her organization is doing for her community. And also proud of how it does the work. RMSER serves all who need help at their pantries and mobile food efforts. The individual only needs to come, the doors are open.

“We’ve noticed that the struggle for people is that they are just a dollar or two above or below program requirements and their own needs,” Barela said. “And it’s hard for them to come in and ask. We don’t want them to feel like they aren’t able to get help. We just don’t want people to feel judged. We want them to feel comfortable to come in and say I need help and then get it.”

NOW OPEN RMSER Food Pantries, Food for Optimal Fuel


In partnership with Food Bank of the Rockies and Care and Share


I wanted to take a moment to write you a confidential (long) email.  However, you may feel free to share it within RMSER staff.
I wanted to let you know how extremely successful the food pantry was in Pueblo today.  I said the only thing missing there was a cash registerEmoji.  It was well attended and everyone was commenting on the well stocked and complete positive shopping experience.  Brandi, Alvin and all of the staff were so kind and welcoming!  The cleanliness, choices, and array of purposeful food items was amazing.
I wanted to share a little of my story with you.  I have a mother that died of COVID in December and have a 58 year old brother that lived with her his entire life.  He has learning and physical disabilities.  He can not read or write and is now in ass't living and I am responsible for him.  I have a husband with dementia, a daughter with a family and living with a very low income.  Needless to say I often feel very overwhelmed and sometimes barely hanging on.  

My brother gets a small stipend and it has to go for extra food items, clothing, and personal hygiene items.  I have to help him, family members, and a disabled neighbor too with food.
I went to the Chili Festival  this year and I noticed a children's area  being set up.  I introduced myself to Brandi and asked if she needed help setting up.  She had me help her two days and it was the highlight of my time at the festival.  I also was given items to take to my granddaughters for them to do at home.  It was amazing the set-up Brandi had at that Festival; it was as if she moved an entire school full of activities for the children to enjoy.  
I never met or knew about RMSER until I met Brandi in September of this year.  She explained the services and mentioned the new food pantry that was opening.  She immediately impressed me with her organization, caring, and outreach to the Pueblo Community.  I had not seen her again until today at the pantry.  She was present to greet and welcome all of us into the pantry.
Everyone is going through there own life changing experiences, just as I explained my story to you,  we are all weathering storms in our lives.  So when you meet someone who has passion and kindness it means a lot and can lift you out of some of the tribulation and trials we are all going through. Brandi has the most sincere heart and is one of those people.
There was a mother at the pantry today, with two girls shopping, and I was saying how amazing the pantry was.  The mother told me she didn't know what she was going to do for groceries and was appreciative of the many choices at the store.  Another friend of mine is also a grandmother who helps out her kids and grandchildren.  We were all pleased and amazed at that pantry and more importantly how kind and understanding Brandi and the staff were.
I wanted to reach out to you to let you know how impressive Brandi is.  Her dedication, compassion, and commitment really shined in the set-up at that pantry.  We are fortunate to have that Food Pantry on the south side and to have someone like Brandi leading the way and opening that door to welcome all who have food scarcity in their lives.
Thank you to Brandi, the staff,  and RMSER for the outreach to the neighbors and community of Pueblo.  We are truly blessed and grateful.
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