By Janaki Jane, Direct Services Advocate, LEAF
In 2008, the then pastor of the Lyons Community Church, Claire McNulty Drewes, had the compelling idea of starting a food pantry and basic needs emergency fund. In her role as pastor, she had noticed that there were residents of Lyons who didn’t have enough to eat, and that sometimes local people ran into emergencies where they needed help with paying for basic needs like heat, electricity, rent and medical bills. McNulty Drewes went to her congregation, where members volunteered to help out in creating a food pantry and a Basic Needs Emergency Fund (BNEF). But she needed funding. So she went to the newly formed Lyons Community Foundation (LCF) and asked them for financial support.
LCF responded. As a community foundation, its mission is to improve the quality of life, build a culture or giving, and encourage positive change in the Greater Lyons area. The organization has been dedicated to giving financial support to the basic needs programs in Lyons ever since. Between 2008 and 2016, including Rebuild Lyons Flood Recovery funds, LCF has granted BNEF and the Food Pantry, both of which are now LEAF, $209.069. “There are critical needs that aren’t optional needs,” said Clark Hodge, who was on the LCF Advisory Board for several years. “BNEF and the Food Pantry were granted money as a Board prerogative.” Other grants were part of a competitive process sent to a committee to fund or not. For those grants, “nobody was going to starve or have their heat turned off,” he said. “They’re important, too, but it’s different.” Funding for basic needs was seen as something separate and necessary. The programs could and can return to LCF for extra funding if they run out during the year.
“There is an informal commitment to supporting BNEF/LEAF/Food Pantry,” said Monique Sawyer-Lang, current Chair of the LCF Advisory Board, and a co-chair of the Food Pantry since its inception. For the first few years, LCF funded the two programs with about $15,000-17,000 a year.
“The Food Pantry started with 5 or 6 families getting prepacked boxes of non-perishable foods, as a ministry of the church,” said Sawyer-Lang. “The emergency part was very limited. For example, paying utilities when there was a catastrophic illness or a death in the family. But as time progressed, we could see that there was more need than we were able to meet.” They put in policies about how much each household could get in a year, and the number of times a year each household could get assistance.
“It worked until the flood,” said Sawyer-Lang. In the aftermath of the floods, it was natural for LCF and BNEF to work together for flood relief. They created “Rebuild Lyons, One Life at a Time.” Lyons was fortunate to have the LCF—a trusted, philanthropic organization with 501(c)3 status—to be the stewards of all of the donations coming in to assist flood impacted Lyons residents. “The BNEF had the knowledge of the community and its needs,” said Sawyer-Lang. “LCF came up with an application and a confidential review process.” Because they were a local organization, they were able to move things along quickly and get out money in a more timely manner than larger organizations did. They distributed almost $1,000,000 to about 300 local families and households at around the New Year of 2014, less than 4 months after the floods.
In helping with the recovery, it became apparent that there was a need for long term support in the community, which was bigger than BNEF could handle. In July 2014 LEAF was created as its own non-profit, including both the Lyons Community Food Pantry and basic needs assistance, and adding in Case Management. In the two years after the floods, LCF supported LEAF with $95,000 for flood recovery assistance. LEAF was able to hire a Displaced Resident Advocate to reach out to the former mobile home park residents, a flood rebuild advocate to assist Confluence residents with permitting, and to have a preliminary report on the options and possibilities of building a manufactured housing community in Lyons. During this time LEAF also assisted an unprecedented number of Lyons residents with needs, many of which would not even be considered in a non-disaster situation by a typical human services agency or family resource center.
As LEAF has grown and expanded its programs and services to the community, LCF has remained steadfast in its support. Just recently, LCF granted LEAF $10,000 for operations and direct client assistance funds. LEAF is thus able to give financial assistance directly to area residents, and to provide information, resources, support and assistance that enable local residents to become more self-sufficient, which means that they and their families are healthier and happier members of our community, able to contribute from themselves more fully. “LCF’s support of LEAF’s work is truly making a difference in the lives of Lyons residents. Their commitment to the people of Lyons is astounding,” said Emily Dusel, Executive Director of LEAF.
You can donate to LCF and support both LEAF and other local endeavors by going to their website www.lyonscf.org, and clicking on “donate.” LEAF is available for emergency basic needs assistance 7 days a week at 720-864-4309, and is open every Wednesday for Case Management, basic needs assistance, supportive advocacy, resource referral, along with the Lyons Community Food Pantry, every Wednesday between 10:30 and 5 at the Lyons Community Church, 350 Main Street, Lyons. www.leaflyons.org, or LEAF on Facebook.
Janaki Jane is the Direct Services Advocate and Case Manager at LEAF. For the last 12 years, she has live off the grid in the foothills above Lyons, with her husband and her cat, being visited frequently by the local moose, bear, fox, bobcat, deer, elk and lion population.