CONIFER - The Conifer community recognizes there are children whose families don't have enough money to keep nutritious food in their homes. The 285 BackPack Project is out to help with that.
Charlotte Wytias is the one leading the charge.
"This is our way of making the world a better place in our little neck of the woods," Wytias said. "We want families to have what they need so children aren't hungry, and they are able to focus on learning."
Wytias, a Denver native, moved back to Colorado in 2001. Right away, she joined the Rotary Club of Conifer since she had been active in a rotary chapter in upstate New York.
When she learned the Conifer club wanted to do a backpack program, she took on the challenge of starting it up.
"I've always been able to do that kind of thing," Wytias said. "You just tell me you need a job done, I take a look at it and figure it out. It's just something that comes from inside."
Over the last three years, the program has grown and now helps more than 100 children in five schools along the U.S. 285 corridor in Conifer and Bailey.
"The schools give us a lot of feedback," Wytias said. "They see what happens when kids are not getting enough to eat when they come to school on Monday morning. But, when the kids do have enough food over the weekend, the schools tell us how much better the behavior is, how much more the child can concentrate and succeed."
Wytias brings together all the donations and organizes the 75 volunteers.
The 285 Backpack Project acquires most of the food from the Food Bank of the Rockies and produce is donated from area churches. The Rotary Club of Conifer and other organizations raise money to buy food for the program.
Every Thursday afternoon, all that food is brought into a big room at one of the local schools. There, the food is distributed into plastic bags. Then, all those bags are taken to all of the schools in the program so that they're ready for the children on Friday afternoons.
Wyatis is hoping to grow the program. She is certain there are at least four times more kids in the Bailey and Conifer area who need help. She hopes those families will reach out.
"I'm a mom," Wytias said. "I'm a grandma. I can't imagine kids being hungry."
She shutters at the statistic that Colorado has seen a 66 percent increase in the number of kids who are hungry since 2002, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's Child Health Survey.
"It's not like you can say 'Oh, this week, I don't feel like doing that,'" Wytias said. "I rely on my discipline because, every week, I have to have food ready to go out to these 100-plus kids."
Wyatis says she couldn't imagine volunteering anywhere else. She couldn't imagine not volunteering. The fact that she was chosen as a 9Who Care winner is hard for her to believe.
"Over the years, I've seen a whole lot of people get this award, and I was like 'Wow, what wonderful people,'" Wytias said. "It's pretty overwhelming quite honestly."
"You should know she's relentless," fellow Rotarian Suzanne Barkley said. "She is single focused and gets things done when she has a passion."
Barkley nominated Wytias for the 9Who Care Award.
"She's the one that keeps the '285 Backpack Project' running, that's for sure," Barkley said.
(© 2015 KUSA)