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Colorado Springs Woman Operates Popular Little Free Pantry on Westside

Taylor Johnston

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Hailey Radvillas started a Little Free Pantry on the west side of Colorado Springs to help her neighborhood in a direct way. The pantry, outside her home, is part of a network of Little Free Pantries across the U.S.




Skyler Ballard, The Gazette


A tinier than tiny house stands on Hailey Radvillas’ front lawn on the west side of Colorado Springs.

Her Pikes Peak Little Free Pantry, with its gabled roof and giraffe-pattern paint job of blue, green, purple and magenta, and plexiglass doors that open to reveal two shelves, is part of a network of Little Free Pantries across the U.S. She’s registered on the website littlefreepantry.org.

The addition to her yard grew out of feeling hopeless as she watched the pandemic rage on, and friends and co-workers lose loved ones and jobs, while civil unrest filled our collective consciousness.

“I was learning more about mutual aid and people helping each other, and not getting into the business or government side of things,” Radvillas said. “The need is real. Mutual aid is the biggest thing we, as Americans, have control over and can help each other with. I’m not going to give because I feel bad. I’m going to help because I might need help and we’re stronger together.”

Inspired by the Denver Community Fridges and The Love Fridge Chicago projects, which offer refrigerators filled with packaged and store-prepared meals and fresh produce, Radvillas began her own mutual aid project at the end of January. She put a set of drawers from a thrift store in front of her house at 516 W. Pikes Peak Ave., across from Western Omelette, hoping to take advantage of her location — close to downtown and two major trails, which see a lot of foot traffic. She filled the drawers with shelf-stable food and toiletry items, and watched it take root. Her plan worked — nowadays, people come and go almost on the daily, leaving and taking donations.

Matthew, a 68-year-old homeless man, rolled his two bikes up to Radvillas’ house on a hot September afternoon. He hopes her husband, who started fixing bikes for free this year, can help him out. He’s no stranger to the pantry; it’s a handy source of food and other needed items, as he deals with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“They save me from starving,” Matthew said. “They take good care of people, children and dogs.”

Today the pantry’s two shelves are somewhat bare. There are packages of pasta, cans of tomato sauce and a cardboard box full of individual servings of sunflower seed butter. Menstrual pads perch in a corner. A heavy duty drink cooler filled with fresh, cold water rests on the sidewalk, next to another cooler and several large plastic storage bins, all donated by community members.

People come and go all day and night. Some give — they drop off food (though Radvillas doesn’t accept fresh meat, dairy or eggs); toiletries, such as deodorant, diapers, tissues, hand sanitizer, toothpaste and toothbrushes; clothing — men’s clothing is most popular, as men make up the bulk of the homeless population; dog food and pet food; and other household goods. One woman left a computer monitor, DVD player and VCR, which quickly disappeared. Others receive, taking what they need. There are no limits on what people can take. The rules at this little pantry are there are no rules.

“That’s the beauty of this. If you need it, take it,” Radvillas said. “Nobody’s going to police you. There are no cameras. We’re not looking out there. With food banks you have to give your name and possibly your address. We want to exist in a place where there are no requirements besides the fact you’re hungry or you need something.”

Word spread quickly after Radvillas put out the initial set of drawers. She created Instagram and Facebook accounts (@pikespeakpantry, facebook.com/pikespeakpantry), then decided to upgrade. She and her husband revamped a cabinet they bought from ReStore, making sure it could withstand any weather conditions, and hired Colorado Springs artist Lizigns to paint it.

Other organizations have taken notice. Cerberus Brewing Co., located nearby on West Colorado Avenue, offered patrons $1 off their beer for donated items. Chelle Tomasik, coordinator for the Manitou Springs Food Pantry, which is run through St. Andrews Episcopal Church, packs up surplus food once a month for Radvillas to pick up.

“It’s really important,” said Tomasik about Pikes Peak Little Free Pantry. “We need our villages. What she’s doing on her own, it’s phenomenal.”

As a Lasagna Love volunteer, Cathy Whitworth drops off pans of homemade lasagna and other meals at the pantry twice a month. The national nonprofit was started at the beginning of the pandemic. Anybody can go online to lasagnalove.org to sign up for a free, homemade and hand-delivered lasagna.

“It takes a lot to maintain that,” said Whitworth about the pantry. “To keep it clean and looking good. It’s a wonderful thing. Anybody can donate however they want to. It doesn’t have to be a lot. It can just be a few things, but that’s how you get it to people.”

Radvillas and her husband, Cully Radvillas, moved to the Springs from Chicago, in 2012, and now have a 4-year-old son. They both work at home, thanks to the pandemic, which has made running the pantry easier as they can keep tabs on refilling food and water. The new project doesn’t always go smoothly, of course, though the issues are few. There are folks who visit who aren’t in a great state of mind, due to addictions and mental illnesses. And there was the time they came home to find somebody had tried to rip the doors off the pantry. But somebody else had tried to fix the damaged door, and left them a note, along with the broken piece, on their porch.

“That’s the spirit,” Hailey said. “It’s all of us coming together to help each other.”

Part of her intention is to lessen the fear people have of each other, and to encourage people to treat each other with more open-heartedness.

“There will always be people who steal and have addictions, but it’s few and far between,” she said. “People just want to be heard and acknowledged as human beings.”

As for the future, Hailey harbors no desire to turn the pantry into an LLC or a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

“God no, I don’t want to do that,” she said. “I don’t want there to be any red tape. I don’t want there to be anyone telling me what to do, or telling people coming here what to do. It should just be about people being there for each other.”

Contact the writer: 636-0270



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Coroner Spotlights Domestic Violence, Homelessness, Fentanyl Crises in Annual Report

Taylor Johnston

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More than a third of the 61 people murdered in El Paso County last year were killed during a domestic or family violence situation.

Seven homeless people froze to death on the streets of Colorado Springs last year, and another five died from exposure to the elements from Jan. 1 through May 31 of this year.

And while youth suicides declined dramatically last year, more adolescents as well as adults are unintentionally dying from fentanyl, according to the 2021 El Paso County Coroner’s annual investigative-deaths report, released Tuesday.

“As our population grows, we’d expect to see all categories increase incrementally, but there are areas where we’ve left that trajectory,” said Dr. Leon Kelly, El Paso County coroner and chief medical examiner.

Fentanyl, a prescription pain drug, constitutes a “gross deviation” from predicted increases, Kelly said, largely because the synthetic opioid has wormed its way into many illicit street pills and often is ingested unknowingly.

That’s evidenced by the number of fentanyl-related deaths doubling for each of the past five years, he said.

Last year’s five accidental fentanyl-related deaths among children younger than age 18 surpassed the number of teen suicides last year, which fell from a record-tying high of 15 deaths in 2020 to only four deaths in 2021, statistics show.

“The big tipping point came when fentanyl went from an illegally trafficked drug to being stamped and masked as other medications,” Kelly said. “It’s easily carried, sold to kids in pills, and the cost has gone down because of the massive supply, so the barrier has been broken.”

Across the board, accidental drug-related deaths increased by 22% last year, with 107 methamphetamine deaths and 99 fentanyl deaths. Fentanyl also was found in a quarter of the meth overdoses.

Other trends that emerged from 2021 autopsied deaths:

o El Paso County saw a large increase in total firearms-related fatalities, jumping from 133 in 2020 to 167 last year.

o Homicides increased from 55 in 2020 to 61 in 2021, six of which occurred in a single mass-shooting event at a family gathering on Mother’s Day last year.

o The average age of the 78 people who died while homeless was 49 years old. Deaths of homeless during the first five months of this year are outpacing last year, with 48 deaths through through May 31.

o At least one military veteran or active-duty service member died by suicide every week in El Paso County last year.

o 58 people died in motor vehicle accidents, a decrease from 78 in 2020.

o However, 20 pedestrians and five bicyclists were killed in 2021, compared with 13 pedestrians and seven bicyclists in 2020.

o There were an additional 96 accidental deaths due to falls predominantly among the elderly, with an average age of 78.6 years, which were investigated without autopsy.

o 398 people died of natural causes, with cardiovascular disease as the top reason, causing 170 deaths, and chronic alcoholism attributed to 64 deaths.

The same type of prevention work that El Paso County has poured into reducing teen suicides needs to be deployed to counter the use of fentanyl, Kelly said.

Efforts are underway, he said, with the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office convening community leaders and experts to study lessons learned from youth suicide prevention that can be applied in attacking the newest threat to children’s lives.

Success in lessening youth suicides came because representatives from all sectors became part of a concerted push, Kelly said, after El Paso County ranked highest in the state and near the top in the nation for self-inflicted fatalities.

“Every conceivable youth-facing organization, from faith-based, to Inside Out (a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organization that serves youth), to schools, to parents to law enforcement to mental health professionals identifying what was going on and what they could bring to the table,” Kelly said.

Face It Together, a nonprofit that provides peer coaching for adults with addictions and support for families, has seen “a great need” and an increase in people seeking help with opioid addiction such as fentanyl, said CEO Wendy White.

The organization opened its first Colorado office last April in Colorado Springs and also offers remote services nationwide.

“The power of using peers helps remove the shame and stigma, and breaks down barriers, allowing people to share their situation and add more tools to their toolbox,” White said.

She said she’d like to see a “harm-reduction” approach with test strips provided for drug users to determine the toxicity level of pills they might ingest.

The public now can buy Narcan, an antidote for people overdosing on opioids, at pharmacies without a prescription, said Dr. Eric Stein Bronsky, an emergency medicine physician with Penrose-St. Francis Health Services in Colorado Springs. Emergency medical technicians and police also carry doses, which is easily administered in a nasal spray, he said.

Also, hospitals dispense Narcan when discharging patients who are on pain medication, Bronsky said.

“Not all opiate doses are illegal; a tremendous amount of overdoses come from prescribed medication, and Grandma or Mom or Dad stacking pain medicine, or their body having a harsher response that can send them into respiratory decline,” he said.

Because fentanyl is hidden in pain pills that look like OxyContin or Percocet, for example, and is more potent than other drugs, opiate abuse won’t abate, Bronsky believes, until it’s seen as a health care crisis and not a legal problem.

“They can arrest more dealers, put more people in jail, but until we’re willing to concentrate on what it is — a health care crisis — people won’t be willing to solve it,” he said. “People are willing to solve a health care crisis.”


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Defense Contractor With 200-person Office in Colorado Springs Approves Company Merger

Taylor Johnston

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Vectrus shareholders approved a merger with The Vertex Co. to create the new military powerhouse, V2X, a $3.4 billion revenue company to be based out of northern Virginia, Vectrus announced in a news release Wednesday.

The transaction will give Vertex shareholders nearly two-thirds ownership of the company and Vectrus shareholders one third, creating one of the nation’s 20 largest defense contractors with 14,000 employees in 300 locations worldwide.

“Today’s (Wednesday’s) overwhelming approval marks a significant step toward completing our merger with Vertex, and creating one of the leading providers of critical mission solutions and support to defense clients globally,” Chief Executive Officer of Vectrus Chuck Prow said in the release. “Vectrus and Vertex — together as V2X — will be better positioned to meet the mission-essential needs of our clients while delivering cost efficiencies, increased security and resiliency, with more strategic use of resources.”

The melding of the two companies is likely save about $20 million a year by eliminating duplicated information technology, computer networks along with “some consolidation of people,” as V2X tries to tackles a contract backlog of more than $11 billion reaching into 2027.

Vectrus’ Colorado Springs office of 200 employees that focuses on sales, finance and human resources will stay in place, Vectrus Vice President Michael Smith confirmed.

Vertex also operates an office near the Colorado Springs Airport that supports a contract the company manages at a radar station in Alaska that feeds data to the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).

Summer jobs help area youths earn cash, develop skills

Prow will become CEO, Vectrus Chief Financial Officer Susan Lynch will hold the same post in the combined company and Vectrus board members will hold six of the 11 seats on the combined board, including the chairman’s post. Vertex CEO Ed Boyington will serve on the board and remain with the combined company until retiring after an unspecified transition period.

Vectrus, which specializes in logistics, information technology maintenance and operating military bases, is slightly larger than Vertex.

Vectrus generates about $190 million more in revenue and employs 2,400 more people, mostly at military bases around the world. Vertex specializes in aircraft maintenance, systems engineering and training.

“We thank all of our stakeholders for their continued support and look forward to completing the pending combination so we can begin unlocking the incredible potential of our combined platform,” Prow said.


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Wildlife Officials Warn of Possible Increase in Bear Encounters This Year

Taylor Johnston

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Colorado Parks and Wildlife is warning the public of the possibility of increased bear encounters this summer and fall because of late season storms that struck Colorado in May.

Bears’ diets depend on what kinds of foods are seasonally available such as grasses, berries, fruits, nuts and plants. These food sources can be disrupted in years that are abnormally dry or when there is a late frost like this year, wildlife officials said.

“We certainly see a correlation between annual failures of natural bear food sources and years with higher human-bear conflict rates,” said Mark Vieira, the state’s carnivore and furbearer program manger. “When natural food sources are scarce, as the smart flexible eaters that bears are, they tend to spend more time near humans.”

Bear encounters last year were down 28% compared to the previous two years. But encounters are expected to rise because of concerns about the late freeze that could limit food sources.

Wildlife officials said a late freeze occurred in May 2017 and led to a high conflict year where 109 bruins were relocated and 190 others were euthanized.

Mountainous and foothill areas from western Douglas County to Larimer County have already reported areas with frost damage to crops, while other forages continue to recover from wildfires, such as the Cameron Peak fire in 2020 — the largest in the state’s history.

“We have such a large fire footprint that the damage is already done as far as worrying about the soft mass production,” Wildlife Officer Shane Craig said. “I’m sure there were pockets of natural forage that survived, but we have already skated on our luck to get us past 2021.”

Wildlife officers are concerned about the number of gamble oak crops that died during the late season freeze. The crop produces acorns that become a vital source of food for bears as they prepare for winter and are in hyperphagia where they consume 20,000 calories a day.

Wildlife officials said nearly all emerging gamble oak crops above 6,800 feet in western Douglas County died in the late season freeze, but chokecherries and plums survived.

“We’ll be okay for the short (term), but in the 7-8 years I’ve been in my district I’ve never seen an oak dieoff like this,” Wildlife Officer Melanie Kaknes said in a news release. “The bears will have to figure out something because they have to put on weight for the winter. This dieoff (is) going to be pushing bears down in elevation and likely into towns.”

In western Jefferson County and eastern Park County, officials are concerned about the status of higher elevation crops.

“It is too early for me to know how things will pan out for the higher elevation stuff,” Wildlife Officer Dawson Swanson said in a news release. “On the good side we are getting some moisture that we desperately need, let’s just hope things did not freeze up high.”

Most adult bears survive year-to-year even if there is poor food availability.

Wildlife officials reminded residents and visitors to be aware of their surroundings and follow proper guidelines on living appropriately with bears.

These guidelines include:

Keep garbage in a well-secured enclosure.Only put out garbage on the morning of pickup; bring empty cans inside before dark.Use a bear-resistant trash can or dumpster. These are available online or from your trash hauler.Clean all garbage cans regularly to keep them odor free. The scent of ammonia can also deter bears.Take down all bird feeders. Bird feeders are a major contributor to bear/human conflicts and resulted in 1,073 conflicts between 2019 and 2021. Don’t leave pet food or stock feed outside.Install and test electric fencing to protect chicken coops, bee hives and livestock enclosuresKeep garage doors and windows closed and locked

For additional information about bears and guidance, click here.


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