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