A worker helps move food at the Care and Share Food Bank in Colorado Springs, Colo.
In the best of times, the pallets of food that the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee collected in recent months to support its athletes this summer would be just beginning the journey to Tokyo.
Instead, as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the postponement of the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, those pallets are now at the Care and Share Food Bank in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and will go toward helping those in need throughout southern Colorado. The USOPC’s donation last week included nearly $115,000 worth of food to support the local community that supports Olympic and Paralympic athletes so strongly throughout the year.
“These are incredibly difficult times for everyone,” said Rick Adams, the USOPC’s chief of sport performance and National Governing Body services. “Our CEO, Sarah Hirshland, is someone who’s always thinking about others and in this case when she became aware that we had this large volume of food she wanted to make sure we did all we could for the people in Colorado Springs who need it.”
Colorado Springs is home not just to the USOPC headquarters but also hundreds of athletes and support staff thanks to the presence of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center and the various NGBs based in the city. Adams said the USOPC worked in collaboration with Mayor John Suthers to determine where in the community the donation could be best used, ultimately deciding on Care and Share.
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“We’re confident they’re getting it into the hands of people who need it right now,” he said. “Unfortunately the product isn’t on its way to Tokyo, but there are more important things going on and we wanted to do our small part to help.”
The logistics behind sending athletes to the Olympic and Paralympic Games are coordinated to the smallest details and begin years in advance. A big part of the USOPC’s support of athletes is making sure that they have the proper nutrition both for performance and recovery, and that means ensuring that the same food the athletes would be eating in the United States is available in whatever country the Games may be held. As such, the organization ships enormous amounts of food to wherever the Summer and Winter Games are located, and it also sends chefs that prepare the athletes’ food on a regular basis at the various training centers to ensure continuity, Adams said.
It doesn’t end with sending food or chefs, either.
For example, Adams said, refrigeration standards are different in different countries, so staff has to make sure the food is being stored the same way it is in the U.S.
“And in Rio, where we had a lot of evening finals, it was really important for the athletes to be able to recover late in the evening where maybe back at the Olympic Village there may not be the volume of food they’d be looking for late at night,” Adams said. “So we prepare meals for the athletes to make sure they can properly recover. In Tokyo, the finals are more often earlier in the day, but then really good recovery meals midday would be important.”
The USOPC was getting ready to begin shipping food, including items such as granola bars and apple sauce, to Tokyo when the International Olympic Committee announced in late March the one-year postponement. With the food set to expire before the end of the year and with the need in the community, USOPC officials found it a new home.
Care and Share serves 31 counties in southern Colorado and last year helped 171,000 people, chief operating officer Shannon Brice said. Although she doesn’t yet have numbers, they’ve already seen an increase in need with many people unable to work amidst the COVID-19 outbreak.
“It’s going to continue to be an issue and we’ll be responding to it for a good amount of time,” she said.
The USOPC regularly donates food from its Colorado Springs facility to the food bank, but nothing on the level of the shipment delivered last week. It totaled 18,362 pounds, Brice said, and with one pound equaling roughly 1.2 meals it will make a significant difference.
“We’re actively trying to secure as much food as we can so donations like this, and this value, this amount, are incredibly meaningful,” Brice said.
In addition to its regular donations to the food bank, the USOPC has at various times embraced other opportunities to help the community in and around “Olympic City USA.” For example, when wildfires raged in the area, Adams said, they opened the training center to help people who’d been displaced from their homes.
“We’re proud of the city and proud of the opportunity we have to help in some small way, as everyone else is doing,” Adams said. “It’s extraordinary what’s happening in our country in terms of people wanting to help each other, help first responders, help medical staff. I’m so proud of everyone who’s risen up in these really tough times.”
Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.