One of the Grand Valley's best known labels for local jams, jellies and chocolate-dipped fruits is in new hands and will now serve as a business where people with developmental disabilities can find employment.
Strive, a Mesa County-based nonprofit that offers a variety of services for individuals with developmental disabilities and their families, purchased Alida's Fruits in early October from the longtime owners.
"Farmer" Bob Helmer and his wife, Alida, ran the business for nearly three decades and had listed it for sale a few years back as they are ready to retire. The couple will stay somewhat involved with the operation and keep their house in back of the store at 3402 C½ Road on East Orchard Mesa. Farmer Bob is well known at area farmers markets and around town for his trademark overalls, peach shirt and straw hat.
"We'll be around helping them," Alida said. "Bob wants to do a lot of woodworking. I have my hobbies."
Strive Vice President Douglas Sorter began talking to the couple about two years ago and expressed interest in buying the operation to transition it to a social impact business. The hope was to provide an employment opportunity to some of the more than 900 adults the organization serves.
"This gives them an opportunity to really have a good job that is meaningful that gives them that self confidence, value in themselves and a purpose that is instrumental in growth," Sorter said. "We're a person-centered organization, so we're looking at opportunities to achieve what they are trying to achieve in life."
Sorter approached new CEO Grant Jackson after he came on board earlier this year and the two were able to convince the board of directors to OK the venture.
"I can see where this particular piece can really benefit the whole organization and especially the people we support who are looking for jobs," Sorter said. "We want to make it a social impact business of everyone working together."
According to Jackson, he was on board with the idea as soon as Sorter pitched it to him and is looking forward to see the business grow.
"It enhances the culture," Jackson said.
He added that Alida's Fruits was the perfect business to purchase to start this venture and that Farmer Bob and Alida's involvement will help minimize the risk.
"Alida's is such a mainstay in the community. It's a well-respected agency already," Jackson said. "There's always some financial risk, but the partnership with Bob and Alida will be a seamless transition in my mind."
Strive has hired three of their clients who will work alongside three employees hired from the community at large. The thought is that Strive can hire more people once the organization has a better handle on how much help is needed.
Alida's Fruits is expected to stay busy through the holiday season, Alida said.
Without advertising openings too much, Sorter and Jackson said they have received strong interest from clients who want to work at the business.
Candidates go through the same application process they would for any other job, Jackson said. Applicants are judged based on their resume and enthusiasm related to the job. Those working will sell products to customers and perform manual labor tasks around the business such as canning items or cutting products.