Wilbert was a cook in Vail; Catherine was marked as deceased by the city of Baltimore; Tyrone describes his shelter and food situation as a “Queue River.” The homeless and hungry of Colorado Springs have stories to tell, and Grits Collective is determined to share their narratives with the world.
Grits Collective was proposed by Colorado College students during the Colorado College Soup Project, a competition during the 2014-2015 school year to rethink the community soup kitchen after it closed. Three current seniors—Ben Criswell, Caitlin Canty, and Paige Clark—came up with the idea as an alternative to connect the community.
“We were really passionate about providing services to the homeless,” said Criswell. “We had an ‘ah-hah’ moment about publication.”
The students pitched their idea in March and were able to start working by May. With the help of the CC Innovation Institute and Collaborative for Community Engagement, Grits Collective was awarded seed funding.
“The idea for publication transformed into this media collective. It publishes folks and also also provides meals at workshops and job skills in terms of editing and publication,” said Criswell.
The mission of Grits is to provide empowering programming for vulnerable members of the community, challenge the status quo attitude toward these populations, deepen the relationship between Colorado College and the rest of Colorado Springs, and archive its publications as primary sources for sociological research.
“We chose the name ‘Grits’ because we liked the food association with it,” said Canty. “It can refer to the nutritiousness of grits, the meal, or it can refer to the grittiness of street life.”
Grits is partnered with Catholic Charities Marian House, Urban Peak, Colorado Springs Food Rescue, and KRCC for support, workshopping space, and rescued food.
Criswell describes the work that Grits does as rewarding and fulfilling for both those sharing the stories and those helping to publish them.
“One of our contributors came to our launch party and he was grinning ear-to-ear,” said Criswell. “He told us how he was taking clippings and sending them to his family across the country. It’s really cool to be able to bring about that kind of reaction in somebody.”
Grits recently launched their website, gritsco.org, and published their first print copy in the Colorado Springs Independent. The website will be updated often with new posts, and print publications will come out quarterly. Contributions will be archived at Colorado College Tutt Library so that students and faculty have access.
“We still need photographers, interviewers, all sorts of things,” said Canty. “We are now finally ready to add people to the project.”
Students interested can get involved by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.