Svaldis donate vintage vehicle to benefit La Puente

(09-19-2013)

Dave Svaldi doesn't mind a little grease under his fingernails. For years the President of Adams State University enjoyed tinkering with his 1953 GMC truck, which he had restored with help from his older brother.

Now at a stage of life where they're trying to downsize possessions, Svaldi and his wife, Virginia, recently donated the maroon and black vehicle to raise funds for La Puente, the homeless shelter in Alamosa, Colo. Another loyal La Puente supporter, Harry Mathews of Denver, purchased the truck for $10,000.

La Puente Director Lance Cheslock said, "It's almost impossible to adequately express our gratitude for a gift of this size. It's a symbol that the Svaldis truly believe La Puente is making a difference. I am deeply touched that community leaders like them can reach out to the most marginalized people in our community."

"Virginia and I are both great fans of Lance and the whole La Puente family. We hope these funds will help children most of all," Svaldi said.

He said his brother, Dennis Svaldi of Grand Junction - who also holds a Ph.D. - "is a great, good man who restores vehicles like those our father drove. He once restored a '48 Chevy truck and gave it to our dad on Christmas." Also involved in the '53 GMC restoration were Chris and Ron Clark at Clark's Automotive and Jerry David at B&W Body Shop. "Their help was crucial, as my skills consist of spending the weekend trying to fix the items I broke trying to fix them the previous weekend. And now Virginia is happy she will no longer be restoration widow and can park her vehicle in the spot previously taken up by the GMC."

La Puente appreciates the volunteer efforts of Adams State students during the annual ASU Cares Day.

Community members in need

La Puente provides food, shelter, and advocacy for the homeless and community members in crisis. In addition to the 40-bed shelter in Alamosa, it also operates a network of a dozen food banks throughout the six-county San Luis Valley. Over the last year, the food banks served more than 13,000 people - more than a quarter of the San Luis Valley's population - 40 percent of whom were children.

"Food bank use is growing every year, and we're very worried that we're embedded in a long-term crisis. Our pantry shelves are often empty. Hunger is chronic and ongoing," Cheslock said. La Puente's outreach services help families avoid homelessness. Last year they provided funds for rent or utilities to more than 1,200 valley households. But due to limited resources, 1,500 additional households were turned away. The homeless rate in the San Luis Valley is nearly triple the statewide rate.

"La Puente's needs are tremendous at this time. It's impossible to know where to prioritize the gift, but we will put it to work immediately assisting the most urgent cases of homelessness," he added. The harvest season, which employs migrant laborers, always places extra demands on the shelter. "Harvest was delayed this year, and we have many people sleeping on the floor. We have 70 individuals now, and that number is growing."

Other La Puente programs include Adelante Family Services, which promotes self-sufficiency, and PALS (Positive Activities Lead to Success), which offers after-school and summer children's programs for high-risk children from difficult or traumatic backgrounds. La Puente raises funds by operating Milagros Coffee House and Rainbow's End Thrift Stores.

"I am so honored that Dave and Virginia chose us for this gift. There are so many other ways they reach out and support the needs of the San Luis Valley Community. They are very involved with other initiatives, such as Tu Casa and Boys & Girls Clubs of the San Luis Valley."

The Svaldis and Adams State University collaborate on Valley-wide Health Systems' annual "Share the Magic" event that benefits La Puente. Opening night ticket sales for the Adams State Theatre Department's holiday production are donated to the cause, and the Svaldis take the lead in covering that cost, in addition to hosting and sponsoring the event's reception.

Cheslock noted Adams State students frequently volunteer and sponsor food drives for La Puente, and various departments participate with the PALS program.

"This all makes Adams State's relationship with the community so vibrant. Not many institutions have such profound outreach in the local community," he said.

By Julie Waechter