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The Chinook Center’s People’s Grocery is open every Sunday, 12-2 p.m.

The Chinook Center, a nonprofit meeting space and organizing hub in Southeast Colorado Springs, recently received a $1,000 donation from Vista Grande Community Church. 

Since officially opening their community center in August near Airport Road and Circle Drive, the Chinook Center has provided an organizing space for groups including Southside Alliance, the Colorado Springs DSA, Onebody ENT/K-Land Community Cares and the Empowerment Solidarity Network to hold meetings and events. The group also holds a weekly “People’s Grocery,” which provides free food and personal items to people in need. 

Chinook Center board member Jon Christiansen hopes the donation will lead to future collaboration with Vista Grande. 

“We don’t have any formal relationship with them yet,” he said, “but a lot of their members seem to be active and doing stuff with us. They’ve been active in the movement and have engaged with us a lot.”

Clare Twomey, pastor at Vista Grande Community Church, says the donation was simply a part of the church’s ethos. 

“We are a church that is part of the United Church of Christ,” she said. “We’re also a church that is a ‘Just Peace’ church, that is very much committed to racial justice and justice for all. We’re concerned with homelessness, with justice for native peoples, justice for immigrants and others. We really want to devote our monies, our time, our hearts to racial justice and to the justice that the Chinook Center supports. Our values are very much aligned with the Chinook Center, and we just think that churches for far too long have done a lot of talking, but not a lot of action. If we are going to say that we are a church that holds up social justice, we better put our money where our mouth is. All that comes together and calls us to support the Chinook Center.”

Christiansen says the donation will help the Chinook Center continue to provide resources to the community. 

“It will be helpful with People’s Grocery,” he said. “We always spend some money every week on People’s Grocery, either with bags, or produce or meat, to fill in where we’re not getting donations. It will also help us with our goal of empowering grassroots organizations. What we’d like to do is spend money on big-ticket items that most grassroots organizations can’t afford. One of the things our community council, a council of all the different groups in the Chinook Center, identified as a need was a generator. If we had a generator, people could have it available for when they have outdoor events. No single grassroots organization I’m sure wants to spend the money on that. So things like, those big ticket items, we want to fill in those spaces that those small organizations can’t afford.”

Since opening, the Chinook Center has received a wave of community support, and the organizations that call the center home have had an impact on the Southeast community as a whole. 

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Jon Christiansen is a board member for the center, which serves as a community hub.

“Surprisingly, all week long we get people coming through with food donations or personal item donations,” said Christiansen. “People just kind of just drop them off. It’s little things here and there, which is helpful, especially with the personal items. We also have regular pickups from Care and Share and Colorado Springs Food Rescue.”

Jennifer Smith, the co-founder and director of Onebody ENT/K-Land Community Cares, says the organization uses the Chinook Center to host its tutoring program and board meetings. 

“We connected with Chinook in the summer. They actually provided us with a place for us to go,” she says. “We have a tutoring program we started when kids had to go back to school. We wanted to do something where they can have a place to study and do their work, whether it’s virtually with a tutor online watching them, and being able to be a place where a tutor can actually tutor while they’re working with their teacher. It’s a good environment because they’ve got study rooms and a conference room, and different places we can go in that facility so kids can have an environment away from home. They make us feel at home there; they’re like family. They’ve done everything they can to make us feel comfortable at the Chinook Center, and anything we want to do there, they’ve invited it.”

With the increased support of the community, Christiansen says the Chinook Center plans to expand its programming and continue to empower grassroots groups in Colorado Springs. 

“In the works, we have a Freedom School we’re in the midst of planning right now, and that would be for middle and high school aged kids,” he said. “That would focus on liberatory [social justice] teachings and practice-based teachings for those kids. Coming back in the spring is our People’s College, which is just a series of workshops, presentations and things like this from local change-makers, activists, scholars.

“Several of the groups have done an excellent job of creating community around the space, so people come there and they’re regularly doing community events. There’s also a lot more networking between groups than I think would have happened otherwise. I’m always kind of heartened by how many people have met other people from the different grassroots groups just by stopping by and hanging out and doing collaborative efforts with one another. There are several collaborations that have emerged out of the fact their different groups are members of the Chinook Center.” 

Heidi Beedle is a former soldier, educator, activist, and animal welfare worker. She received a Bachelor’s in English from UCCS. She has worked as a freelance writer covering LGBTQ issues, nuclear disasters, cattle mutilations, and social movements.