From left, Telluride food bank volunteers Tom Schroedl, Barb Gross and Elaine Schroedl. Gross was recently named the Telluride Foundation’s 2019 Citizen of the Year.

The other day, when Barb Gross was cleaning at the local food bank, a girl came by and said, “I’m starving. Do you have anything I can eat?”

“Of course,” Gross replied, handing her a can of food. “Come back Thursday for more.” And the girl opened the can of food and devoured it right then and there.   

Since 2011, Gross has volunteered to run the Telluride food bank, located behind Second Chance thrift shop in a space that is underwritten by the county. In fact, Gross has selflessly served the Telluride community for over 35 years, teaching at Rainbow and Rascals preschools, volunteering for the Angel Baskets’ holiday and school supply programs, and managing the food bank.

For all of that hard work and dedication, the Telluride Foundation selected Barb Kane Gross as the 2019 Citizen of the Year at its July board meeting.

Since 2003, the Telluride Foundation has honored a local community member with the Citizen of the Year Award in recognition of unselfish contributions to the community’s quality of life through volunteerism, service or philanthropy.

Each spring the Telluride Foundation accepts nominations from regional community members, and then the 19 past recipients of the award evaluate the submissions to decide on three finalists. 

Elaine Schroedl, who nominated Gross for the award, has known Gross since the early 1990s, when their children — Carl and Emma — attended Rainbow Preschool together, where Gross was a teacher for 11 years. She went on to serve as director of the Rascals toddler program for five years, while also serving on Rainbow’s board of directors.

“Barb was instrumental in getting Rainbow a new building. It used to be an old white house; broken down, the floor leaned,” Shroedl said. “Then we brought in the pre-fab building that we have now.”

Gross said knowing that she and her colleagues at Rainbow and Rascals made a long-lasting impact on local children is very satisfying.

“That we were building strong foundations and a sense of trust,” Gross said. “And just a love of life and a love of learning.”

Since arriving in Telluride in 1984, Gross has served as a volunteer and a board member for Angel Baskets, advocating for regional children via the holiday program, which distributes food and gift certificates, clothing, necessities, gifts and toys to approximately 650 people — half of them children — across San Miguel County and the West End.

“Every Christmas, Barb makes sure every child gets a toy,” Shroedl said. “She’s an angel in our community.”

Camille Price, who also nominated Gross for the award, has known Gross for 20 years through volunteering at Angel Baskets. 

“Barb focused on the kids and the teens,” she said. “She always wanted to make sure the boy and girl scouts had a chance to come in to Angel Baskets, and made sure that teens had a special gift that they could relate to.”

In 2011, Gross took charge of the Angel Baskets’ food program, which provides food to more than 500 people each month via three regional food banks in Telluride, Norwood and Dove Creek. Managing a team of 25 volunteers, she works over 20 hours a week rotating food, cleaning refrigerators, ordering and eventually composting food, educating volunteers, and coordinating food deliveries across Telluride and to Norwood. She also computerized the entire program and improved the food offerings by reaching out to Clark’s Market for fresh produce and Baked in Telluride for bread. 

Together with her husband, Gary, Gross doubled the size of the Telluride food bank, painted and pulled up old carpeting and linoleum floor, and installed tile to make the experience pleasant, respectful and dignified for food recipients and volunteers.

Shroedl also volunteers at the food bank, giving out food the first Thursday of every month.

“And so I saw firsthand how dedicated Barb is,” Shroedl said. “She puts in so many hours there.”

Gross said that the common thread of all of her good works is the personal relationships she has formed with people; relationships she treasures.

As Citizen of the Year, Gross will receive a commemorative plaque and a grant of $5,000 to be given in her name to a local nonprofit of her choice.

Gross stands out as an exemplary volunteer, Price said, because she works hard with heart-felt sincerity. And her humility is exactly why Gross deserves the award. 

Gross is honored by the award and emphasizes that in all the work she has accomplished, she’s been part of a team of teachers, parents, board members and volunteers who fundraise.

“So all I have to do is put in sweat-equity,” Gross said. “I really appreciate it because I don’t like to fundraise, but I do love to work hard.

“Give back to your community. Volunteer at any opportunity that you can and on any level.”

A party for the community to celebrate Gross’ honor is scheduled for Sept. 18 at the Ah Haa School from 5-7 pm.