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Q&A with Western Slope Director Sue Ellen Rodwick on the New Western Slope Etkin Family Distribution Center

Sue Ellen holding a sign depicting the rendering of the new Western Slope distribution center
Western Slope Director Sue Ellen Rodwick (left) and Development Manager Gabriela Garayar (right) at the site of the future Western Slope Etkin Family Distribution Center in Grand Junction.

Food Bank of the Rockies achieved a major benchmark last year on the Western Slope, distributing more food to more people across our service area than any other time since the organization expanded to serve this region 23+ years ago. While we are immensely proud to have over 145 dedicated Hunger Relief Partners that enabled us to serve our 12-county area, plus a portion of Gunnison County, in such a dynamic way, last year brought into sharp focus a reality we have long faced: the need for a larger distribution center.

Here, Western Slope Distribution Center Director Sue Ellen Rodwick discusses the need for a new facility and the benefits that will come with the Western Slope Etkin Family Distribution Center, which will be located in Grand Junction.

Why is a new distribution center necessary right now?

Over the past several years, counties serviced by our current Western Slope Distribution Center experienced the largest increase in need of any Food Bank of the Rockies service area. Since 2017, we have expanded our operation on the Western Slope by 94%, increasing from 7.1 million pounds distributed in 2017 to more than 11.8 million pounds in 2021. To put it simply: We have dramatically outgrown our current building, even before the pandemic exacerbated the rise in food insecurity. To best serve the people across the Western Slope facing hunger, we need a larger, modernized facility.

How will the new distribution center better meet the needs of people struggling with food insecurity on the Western Slope?

There are many ways in which a bigger, better-equipped distribution center is critical to our mission of meeting the needs of our Western Slope neighbors struggling with hunger. For starters, the bigger storage space — 400% more refrigeration, 39% more dry storage, 59% more frozen capacity — will enable us to partner with more local agricultural partners to source and distribute more fresh fruits and vegetables to clients.

We also need this new distribution center to better serve our 145+ Hunger Relief Partners. Due to current space limitations, our food options are also limited. The Western Slope Etkin Family Distribution Center will give us the room we need to source, store, and offer a wider selection of desired foods to our partners, so that they can in turn better serve our clients.

How will Food Bank of the Rockies use all this new space?

Primarily, we will use the larger facility to provide more of the foods people want to eat. We will do this by expanding our Culturally Responsive Food Initiative and FRESH Program, both of which involve large amounts of fresh, local fruits and vegetables and necessitate more cold-storage capacity. And we will restart our dehydrator program and offer partners access to make proper use of all of the wonderful fresh produce.

It has always been our goal to meet people where they are, and the new distribution center will further our ability to do that through the expansion of programs like EverGreen Boxes™, a program of Everyday Eats, for adults 60+ and Totes of Hope™ for kids. It will also allow us to increase support resources for our 145+ Hunger Relief Partners and team up with more community partners, such as St. Mary’s Medical Center Meals on Wheels Mesa County who will be leasing office space and using our state-of-the-art commercial kitchen to make and distribute more fresh meals to older adults in Mesa County.

How will a bigger Western Slope  Distribution Center impact operations?

a loader driving across the location of the new western slope distribution center
The new Western Slope Etkin Family Distribution Center will provide 84% more space for food storage, volunteer opportunities, community engagement, and Hunger Relief Partner support.

This expanded space will allow Food Bank of the Rockies to receive, process, and distribute substantially more food across the Western Slope, all at an operating cost similar to our current building. This is thanks to the new facility’s many energy-saving features, including LED lighting, solar energy, special refrigeration controls, and additional insulation. There will also be a cardboard recycling system that will reduce waste costs and generate revenue.

When will the Western Slope Etkin Family Distribution Center be open?

Our hope is to be operating out of the new distribution center by the end of summer 2022. To date, we have identified funding for the project through the sale of our current building, a New Market Tax Credit allocation, and philanthropic giving including gifts from the Bruce Etkin Family, the Gary D. Magness Family Foundation, Western Colorado Community Foundation, Bellco Credit Union, the City of Grand Junction, The Abram and Ray Kaplan Foundation, and the Gates Family Foundation, totaling nearly $7 million. We are seeking community support for the remaining $3.8 million.

How can I support Food Bank of the Rockies in building the new distribution center?

a rendering of the new Western Slope distribution center
By relocating to Grand Junction, Food Bank of the Rockies Western Slope will be able to facilitate more efficient shipping and receiving to better serve our 145+ Hunger Relief Partners across the Western Slope.

You can help us make a new, state-of-the-art Western Slope Distribution Center in Grand Junction a reality by partnering with us as a donor today.

Our mission always has been and always will be to serve our Western Slope neighbors with equity, dignity, and respect. And we believe that to do that as well as possible, we need a larger distribution center here. Be part of our growth and help us to best serve our neighbors in need of all ages, circumstances, and locations across our 13-county region. Together, as a community, we can end hunger on the Western Slope. Together, we can.

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