TLC Blog

Crunching on fresh fruits and vegetables! – June is “National Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Month”

By Kate Lythgoe, Food Programs Manager

When most people think of a food pantry they envision shelves of non-perishable items: canned fruits, vegetables, beans and boxed pasta and cereal. While Tri-Lakes Cares does have a pantry that houses those things, we also have a food program called Help Yourself that may surprise some people in what we offer.

Help Yourself is a perishable food pantry, which is run on donations through community retail partners as part of their food rescue efforts and is a no-cost program for Tri-Lakes Cares to offer.  Help Yourself contains fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy, meat and bakery products and is set up to look like a grocery store. Glass door refrigerators display milk, eggs, yogurt as well as cut and packaged fruit and vegetables. Our produce bins hold potatoes, onions, peppers, bananas, apples and oranges, to name a few.

Help Yourself allows clients to shop for themselves, as anyone would at a grocery store. They can examine the fruit, and pick the best one; they can check the dates on the yogurt to confirm they can eat it before it’s inedible.

In September of last year, our clients took a survey and at that time the most common request was that they would like to see more produce, dairy and meat. We are continually working to procure these items for our clients. We have come a long way from September, and will continue to move forward.

This month, Next Step Ministry will be constructing a garden wall on the south side of our building. This garden will grow herbs and vegetables for client use. We are constantly striving to become self-sustainable, just as we ask our clients to be while using our programs.

If you are a gardener, there are opportunities to get involved to bring more fresh fruits and vegetables to our clients:

For more information and recipes about incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables, visit the USDA website at: National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month



Did you know? May is National Mental Health Awareness Month!

By Paula Blair and Francisca Blanc

What is mental health? It is the way your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors affect your life. Good mental health leads to positive self-image and in turn, satisfying relationships with friends and others. Having good mental health helps you make good decisions and deal with life’s challenges at home, work, or school (American Psychological Association). However, a whole month dedicated to being aware of mental health? YES!

As Americans, we tend to be self-reliant, problem-solving enterprising people. Great for managing a career, a home, or post-secondary education. We get sick or injured; we get fixed-up and move on with our lives. Nobody would think twice about getting help to fix a broken bone or get medicine for pneumonia, would they? Would you? What about getting help when you have experienced a loss of a loved one, a pet, or a job? Or when you mentally hit a wall and can’t think straight because you have been working non-stop for several days plus managing (trying to) a personal life? That is like being mired in a mental muck with no obvious way to help yourself. You try and try and it seems as if the mental muck keeps sucking your life force away. You begin to feel desperate, overwhelmed, and not hopeful. Soon, your work-life/school-life/home-life begins to deteriorate, chunks of “you” break-off and the only things which seem to provide relief are sleep, isolation, and sometimes, high-risk behaviors. It is a dark, downward spiral. There is help!

In El Paso County, the  National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Colorado Springs chapter offers free of cost classes and support groups for individuals, family members and others to help you understand the complexities of different mental illnesses, learn how to access resources, and most importantly, connect with others who have shared experiences.

As many resources are available online, it’s important to remember that taking care of your mental illness requires medical attention as any other physical illness. Talking to your primary doctor can be the first step if you think you or someone you love suffers of mental illness. Seeking a psychiatrist and/or a therapist is a crucial next step, as mental illness requires specialized training for proper medication and therapy.

Ultimately, self-care: exercising regularly, eating healthy meals, taking the medication, and sustaining a healthy social life are all important when addressing mental health. If you or a loved one might experience mental illness and you are not sure what to do, you should talk about it with your primary doctor. Reach out to NAMI Colorado Springs by calling them at 719-473-8477. For a crisis situation, you can call the Colorado Crisis and Support Line 844-493-8255.

To learn more about Mental Health Month visit the Mental Health America.


“Volunteering is a calling” by Kelly Bryant

  Merriam Webster defines the word ‘volunteer’, as a person who does work   without getting paid to do it.  Although the definition put forth by dictionary.com says virtually the same thing, I prefer their verbiage – a volunteer is a person who performs a service willingly and without pay.   Why would anyone is his/her right mind be willing to do this?  Volunteering is a great way to fills one’s time in retirement, and it’s also an easy way to meet others in your community – whether it be at school, at church or just in the local neighborhood.  Some people volunteer in order to develop new skills and others do it because of the proven health benefits it provides.   While giving their time benefits volunteers in many ways, it is not why they do it.  I believe it is a calling – a calling to help others who are not as fortunate as they are; or to participate in the education and enrichment of their children; or to raise money for an organization for which they are passionate; or to aid people who have survived disaster.  The list goes on and on.  Yes, volunteers seem to be fueled by compassion and a deep desire to make the world a better place.

Americans volunteer in huge numbers.  According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, about 63 million Americans gave 8 billion hours of volunteer service in 2016.  Using the national estimated per-hour value assigned to these hours by Independent Sector*, the total monetary value of that service is a staggering 193 million dollars.

Taking that down to a local level, our Tri-Lakes Cares volunteers worked a total of 15,894 hours in 2016, which averages out to just under 75 hours per volunteer.  The 2016 per-hour volunteer value in the State of Colorado is $25.97.  A quick calculation shows us that just one volunteer working an average number of hours annually, saves Tri-Lakes Cares nearly $2,000 each year.  As a result we are able to make those funds available to clients by way of added services.  The $2,000 saved might enable us to provide school supplies for 160 kids.  Or, we may use it to cover the cost of our entire Snack Pack program for ten weeks.  Again, this is the impact of just one volunteer.

National Volunteer Appreciation Week is Sunday, April 23 through Saturday, April 29.  It’s a time to thank volunteers everywhere for a job well-done.  A simple thank you hardly seems adequate, but it’s all we’ve got.

To our TLC volunteers:  You come and faithfully serve our clients week after week, month after month, year after year.   We are inspired by your grace and professionalism.  We are awed by your generosity and commitment.  We are amazed by your talent.  You are stellar, and we are honored to know you.  From the bottom of our hearts……THANK YOU!!!


*A national membership organization that brings together a diverse set of nonprofits, foundations, and corporations to advance the common good.

“Feed People, Not Landfills” by Kate Lythgoe, Food Programs Manager

Earth Day is an annual event celebrated on April 22 to promote environmental protection. One challenge of growing concern is that a tremendous amount of food is currently being wasted. In fact, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted annually (more than 350 pounds of food for every person on the planet)! National Geographic reports that if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, behind China and the U.S.

The FAO of the United Nations estimates that 805 million people suffer from starvation globally, and yet each year around the world, nearly 3 trillion pounds of food is wasted. That is enough to fully feed every one of those hungry individuals all year, two times over!!

There is enough food to feed all of those that need it and many of the small actions individuals take in their homes can actually have tangible direct impacts on the issue at hand. While using an energy-saving light bulb is a good thing to do, it is further removed from affecting the world than donating food to a pantry, which not only keeps food from going into a landfill, but puts it directly into the stomach of someone in need.

What does this mean to Tri-Lakes Cares? Well – did you know that we rescued 80,933 pounds from our corporate partners last fiscal year? And, in fiscal year 2017, we have rescued 46,844 pounds from landfills in six months.

What do we do with the food that we rescue?

  1. Offer fresh and fun alternative foods to our clients beyond the regular pantry staples normally provided;
  2. Share any excess we have with other agencies to help meet their client needs;
  3. Feed animals in rehabilitation with a Department of Wildlife partner;
  4. And, generate only 2.5% food waste

If you are inspired to reduce your carbon footprint in honor of Earth Day, check out these tips below:

  1. Check out Save the Food for tips on how to meal plan, how to shop and how to decipher dates on products.
  2. Check out the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s tips for consumers
  3. Download the USDA’s Food Keeper app to learn how long food will stay fresh

This Saturday, ride your bike, plant a tree or donate food to Tri-Lakes Cares!  All of these actions will help create a better tomorrow!

Celebrating Dr. Robert Gibbs!

March 25 through 31 is “National Physicians Week”! Organized by Physicians Working Together, this week is an opportunity to highlight and thank those doctors across the country who provide quality care, especially those in rural or minority communities or serving disadvantaged populations. Patients and colleagues can help show their support by spreading the news of their good work through social media and thanking them with a red carnation.

We would like to issue a BIG THANK YOU to Dr. Robert Gibbs, the Penrose-St Francis volunteer physician who provides medical care and prescription services to our clients. Dr. Gibbs works closely with Nurse Cindy Stickel, the Faith Community Nurse from Penrose-St. Francis in our Neighborhood Nurse Center to make sure clients have access to medical care, medical referrals and medical advice who otherwise might not be able to do so. He is available by appointment, every Tuesday morning.

Dr. Gibbs was the catalyst for the medical clinic at Tri-Lakes Cares! In 2008, Dr. Gibbs approached Jackie Sward, a Faith Community Nurse previously employed by Penrose-St. Francis Health Services regarding the health needs of the local community and possible gaps in care for the low-income or those who were uninsured or underinsured. He offered to volunteer his services as a family practice physician.

On May 20, 2008, the Tri-Lakes Volunteer Outreach Clinic was opened, housed by Tri-Lakes Cares. In the early years of the clinic, Dr. Gibbs met with and treated up to 15 patients per week, especially those who experienced financial difficulties during the “Great Recession.” In 2010, he consulted and treated with 449 duplicated patients.

Those client numbers have dropped in recent years due to the Affordable Care Act, with more people having access to affordable insurance or qualifying for Medicaid and other insurance. In 2016, his case load has dropped to 25 clinic visits.

But, Dr. Gibbs continues to serve with compassion. Even if there is only one patient scheduled for an appointment, he will be there to see that patient. He sees each patient as an individual and devotes as much time as needed to ensure the best medical approach and care is provided.

One patient wrote “…he genuinely cares for his patients regardless of their ability to pay for services.”

A volunteer noted “His gentle treatment of his patients and the clients we serve here is very heartwarming to watch. He takes time to know the individual he is serving and understands not only their medical needs, but also their special life’s circumstances. I feel it gives him a window, or a clue, into their lives.”

In some ways, you could almost think of Dr. Gibbs as the “friendly country doctor” but he is so much more than that at Tri-Lakes Cares. To clients he is a trusted confidant and expert, while to volunteers and staff he is a dear friend and co-worker.

We are truly blessed to have Dr. Gibbs with us! Thank you for all that you do every day and especially at Tri-Lakes Cares!


Good nutrition for everyone

Did you know that March is National Nutrition Month®, a nutrition education and information campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics? The theme for this year is “Put Your Best Fork Forward” to help remind all of us that we have the tool – the fork – to make healthier food choices. Even small choices help to improve health now and into the future.

But what if you can’t make those healthier choices due to financial circumstances? How do you choose between the loaf of sliced white bread (usually cheaper) and the healthier multi-grain option when you are trying to stretch your food budget to feed your family? How can you take advantage of fresh fruits and vegetables to improve health when those same items are outside of your budget?

This is where Tri-Lakes Cares can help! Through our “Help Yourself” pantry option, individuals and families can shop and select whole grain breads, fresh fruits and vegetables as well as dairy products such as milk, eggs and yogurt – all thanks to our community partners. Every Monday and Thursday, our volunteers pick up these items from stores across our community (Safeway, King Soopers, Natural Grocers – to name a few) as well as from Care and Share. Other volunteers help unload the donations and stock the “Help Yourself” shelves, resulting in a friendly atmosphere for clients to “shop.” They can take advantage of the healthier options and consequently stretch their food budget at the store. Of course, we also get some sweet treats which everyone can enjoy periodically.

And, remember, if you are starting to feel “spring fever” and you are planning your vegetable garden – if you harvest a bumper crop, Tri-Lakes Cares will be happy to take your surplus crops and make it available through our “Help Yourself” program.

By providing these options to our clients, they can make better food choices, hopefully improving their health and wellbeing. In addition, they can stretch their limited financial resources to cover other cost of living expenses such as rent, utilities, medical needs (prescriptions), or school needs of their children.

Thank you to all of our food partners who make the “Help Yourself” area so successful! If you shop at any of these stores, be sure to thank them for their support to Tri-Lakes Cares!

Care and Share Food Bank of Southern Colorado
King Soopers (Baptist Road, Store #77)
Kneaders Bakery & Care (Northgate, Store #45)
Kum and Go (Interquest Pkwy, Store #0665)
Kum and Go (Monument, Store #0650)
Kum and Go (Research, Store #0684)
Natural Grocers (Baptist Road, Store #MU22)
Panera Bread (Briargate, Store #203070)
Penzeys Spices (N Academy Blvd)
Pizza Hut (Voyager Pkwy)
Safeway (Monument, Store #1440)
7-Eleven (Northgate, Store #36714
Small Cakes Cupcakery (N. Academy Blvd)
Sprouts (Northgate)
Starbucks (Interquest Pkwy)


Energy Awareness – Energy Costs – Energy Efficiency: What Can You Do?

By Paula Blair, Annette Craft & Christine Bucher

October is “National Energy Awareness Month”, an effort to help citizens understand the importance of energy to our prosperity, security and environment. This may seem “over our heads”  to us on the local level in our own households, but October is also a good time for us to consider our own energy consumption and how we can reduce it thereby saving money, time and the environment.

Colder weather is just around the corner and a nip is now in the air, and many of us welcome winter with snow falling and building snowmen and sledding. Others, however, look at winter and are filled with stress, frustration and feelings of dread. Heating bills are higher and some are left in the cold.

Last month,  Jen Kinney wrote in a blog posting on the Energy Outreach Colorado (EOC) website about a study she co-authored by the nonprofit American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy and The Energy Efficiency for All Coalition. This study shows that low-income families, minorities and rental households may pay as much as 7.2% of their household income paying for energy. Other studies reveal that low-income families spend anywhere from 17% to more than 50% of their income on household energy while other families spend on average 4%.

These energy costs reflect the condition of those who live in low-income housing – usually older homes which lack proper insulations, have older appliances and are less likely to have the resources to mitigate these effects.  However, even in newer homes older appliances, inefficient thermostats and leaky windows can lead to increased energy costs.

What can be done? Surprisingly, there are many resources available to individuals and families who are struggling with energy costs.

November 1 through April 30, you can apply for assistance through LEAP (Low-Income Energy Assistance Program), a federally program that helps eligible families, seniors and individuals pay for a portion of their winter home heating costs.

Throughout the year, Energy Outreach Colorado, through its partner agencies, helps low-income Coloradans with energy and heating assistance, emergency furnace repair and energy efficiency improvements.

Another local resource, Energy Resource Center (ERC), can help landlords and renters make their homes more energy efficient. Qualified individuals and families can request a free energy assessment to determine what changes can be made to help make homes more energy efficient, thereby saving money. ERC can also provide assistance in making the recommended changes. Those who are not struggling financially can also request an energy assessment from ERC for a small fee and learn how to save money in the process.

On October 20th, ERC will hold a class at Tri-Lakes Cares about energy efficiency, weatherization and the services they provide. It will start at 12:30 p.m. and last about 45 minutes. Contact your case manager to sign up.

In addition, our case managers at Tri-Lakes Cares can help you access help for energy costs. Contact Annette (719-481-4864, x 102 / A-L) or Paula (719-481-4864, x 112 / M-Z) for questions or how to get help.

In the meantime, here are some simple things that all of us can do to help bring down our energy costs (source ERC’s website):

  • Turn off lights in unoccupied rooms.
  • Clean or change your furnace filter.
  • Clean the coils on the back of your refrigerator, removing dust and other debris which causes the unit to use more energy to run.
  • Keep your thermostat lower at night or when no one is home.
  • Fill your dishwasher completely before running it.
  • Caulk drafty windows.
  • Unplug appliances or electronic devices rarely used (even if these items are not on, just by being plugged in, they are drawing power).

Challenge your family to bring down your energy costs and you might be surprised how small changes can make a difference!



By Kate Lythgoe, Food Programs Manager

Nearly 1 in 7 Coloradans struggle with hunger, sometimes not having enough money to buy food. Devastatingly, 1 in 5 Colorado kids may not know when or where they will get their next meal.  1 in 7 seniors struggle choosing between food and medication.

September is “Hunger Action Month” – Feeding America’s nationwide awareness campaign designed to take action on ending hunger. During the month, Tri-Lakes Cares will be running its own awareness campaign found here.

But what is Tri-Lakes Cares doing about hunger in our community? How are we hoping to lift the 1 in 4 working families in Colorado who do not have enough food to meet their basic needs out of poverty?

In addition to our supplemental food programs and Help Yourself, TLC is expanding food assistance through:

  • With the funding assistance of Kaiser Permanente, Case Manager Paula is participating in community outreach to screen our  community for food insecurity.
  • Two SNAP Ambassador volunteers, Wanda and Karen, are on-site during client service hours to help our clients apply for SNAP. Colorado currently ranks 45th in SNAP/food stamp access for those eligible
  • Expanding the Snack Pack program to include free/reduced lunch students in District 38 high schools with funding provided by Nutrition Camp School Foundation
  • Hosting CSFP (Commodity Senior Food Program) at Tri-Lakes Cares to increase nutritious food access to our senior clients
  • Providing senior resources through “Senior Brown Bag” lunch to increase awareness and availability of senior programs in our community

Whether it’s by raising awareness, participating in the SNAP Challenge, advocating, donating or volunteering, find a way to make a difference in our Tri-Lakes community. Together, we can tackle hunger!

For more information on the food programs and food assistance, please contact Kate Lythgoe, Food Programs Manager, foodprogramsmanager@tri-lakescares.org or 719.481.4864 x111

We couldn’t do it without you! (Part 1 of an occasionally series)

We are so thankful for our partnerships with our local community through service-oriented clubs and organizations, youth groups, churches, businesses and others, who live and work in the Tri-Lakes Region.

In an effort to acknowledge all these wonderful groups, we will be posting periodic blog postings and also updating the “Our Supporters” section of our website.

For this first posting, we are high-lighting the various service clubs in our region who support us. These organizations, and their members, host fund-raisers that benefit Tri-Lakes Cares, volunteer, donate goods, services and advocate for the work we do in the community.

Monument Hill Kiwanis Club: Their motto is Helping Kids & Youth, Building our Community, and Having Fun while doing it” and this is epitomized each year in October when they host their “Empty Bowls” fundraiser bringing the community together. Attendees select an empty bowl, crafted by local potters, and sample soups donated by local restaurants. In conjunction with the Empty Bowls, Tri-Lakes Cares hosts the silent auction portion of the event. Without the tireless work of the members of the club, this event would not be as successful as it is. You can view photos from last year’s event here – scroll down. And THIS YEAR’S EVENT on October 5!

Beyond “Empty Bowls,” the Kiwanis conduct food drives for us with a huge focus on “Harvest of Love.” Members of the club help with holiday distributions in November and December. And, this year, they helped facilitate the donation of desktop computers and monitors for our clients in partnership with Blue Star Recycling.

Tri-Lakes Lions Club: We have enjoyed a great partnership with the Tri-Lakes Lions Club. They provide financial support for clients who are seeking assistance with vision needs as well as to our “Help Yourself” area of the pantry, providing funds to purchase fresh produce.

In June, they hosted a fishing derby at Palmer Lake (scroll down to see photos), collecting canned food donations as the entry fee for the kids who participated. And on September 19th, they are hosting a golf tournament at The Club of Flying Horse with a portion of the proceeds designated for Tri-Lakes Cares.

Tri-Lakes Women’s Club: The mission of the Tri-Lakes Women’s Club is to support the Tri-Lakes community through charitable and educational endeavors by raising and distributing funds to assist qualified organizations and promoting the education of its members and the community through instructional programs.  For the past 40 years they have held their annual spring event – Pine Forest Spring Show – to raise funds. In addition, they hold a fall event – this year a food and wine tasting event to be held at Spruce Mountain Ranch in September called “Harvesting Hope.” The funds raised at these events, they support various organizations through a grant-making process. We have been fortunate to receive funds to purchase items (carts, filing cabinets, tables, etc.) for both Tri-Lakes Cares and Hangers to Hutches to help with daily operations.

Additionally, the members of the club have conducted numerous food drives to benefit our pantry and have participated in the annual “Giving Tree” program which helps us provide gifts to children and senior citizens in need in our community.

American Legion Tri-Lakes Post 9-11: For the past three years Post 9-11 has provided us with grants to specifically help with the emergency financial needs of our military and veteran clients. In order to raise funds, they conduct weekly bingo games on Saturday nights in The Depot Restaurant at Palmer Lake (did you know that the Post 9-11 actually operates the restaurant?). Visit their website for details on how to participate!

Sertoma: We have been grateful and fortunate for the support of two Sertoma clubs in our area. Sertoma is an international service organization whose members are dedicated to volunteerism and philanthropy in SERvice TO MAnkind. Their main focus is assisting individuals with hearing and hearing loss issues, but their support goes beyond their primary mission.

Legacy Sertoma: Legacy Sertoma continues the legacy of the Sertoma mission and support for the community in the Tri-Lakes area. Traditionally, they have raised funds to support our holiday programs in November and December ensuring that those in need or financial stress can enjoy a holiday meal and gifts (for youth and seniors).

Gleneagle Sertoma: In response to the growing Gleneagle neighborhoods in the mid-1980’s, Gleneagle Sertoma was formed. It is the largest Sertoma club in the immediate region and hosts its annual “Spirits of Spring” event to raise funds to benefit a number of non-profits in the area. We are grateful to have been the beneficiary of past events. Members of the club have also collected school supplies and held food drives to fill our pantry shelves.

Knights of Columbus, St. Peter’s Council #11514: The Knights are a fraternal order of Catholic men who work to support various charitable organizations in the community. Each year they provide financial support to our programs and services, while 12 of their members volunteer on a regular basis in our food pantry. Other causes they support include Special Olympics, School District 38’s special education department  and St. Peter Catholic School. They also provide scholarships to students to attend the parochial school. Funds are raised through pancake breakfasts Sunday mornings following mass at St. Peter Catholic Church and spaghetti dinners. Their biggest fundraiser is the pancake breakfast they host each year at the Fourth of July parade.

Thank you to all of these groups for their support! We couldn’t do it without you!

Please watch for future posts thanking other groups and donors!

Your legacy is our future!

What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal.
Albert Pine

August is “What Will Be Your Legacy?” month.  Take the month to reflect on your past, consider your present, and plan for the future to make positive changes that will affect generations to come.  Some things you can do are write out your family history for your children, grandchildren and other young people in your family; plan how to implement your long-term goals (what is on your bucket list?); and update or complete your will or estate plan.

A common misconception is that wills are just for the wealthy. But in reality everyone, even those with a modest income, has assets. Consider: if you own a car or a home, you have assets. If you have a life insurance policy or an IRA or other type of retirement account, you have assets. If you own family antiques or jewelry, you have assets. A will or estate plan can protect those assets and help your heirs understand your wishes for distribution. This is part of your legacy.

Another aspect of your legacy can include our future. When writing your will or establishing your estate plan, consider leaving a bequest to Tri-Lakes Cares. In simple terms, a bequest is a transfer (a gift) of assets or property at by will to a specific recipient. You can also name Tri-Lakes Cares as a beneficiary on your life insurance policy or your IRA/retirement accounts.  Naming us a beneficiary will let your heirs and others know the importance you place on supporting us and ensuring our future.

If you have already named Tri-Lakes Cares in your estate plans, thank you! We would love to hear from you and learn your story. Don’t worry; we will keep it completely confidential.

If you want to include us in your estate plans, we can provide you with sample language, but make sure you consult your lawyer or financial advisor.

So, during August think about your legacy and begin planning how you want to be remembered.

will map