As the holiday season comes around this year, Denverites may be looking for a place to give back - whether it’s through volunteering their time or donating money. Organizations throughout the city put together food drives and volunteer efforts to provide thousands of families with meals for the holidays.
At South High School, students file in to a long classroom on a Thursday afternoon. Jaclyn Yelich greets many of them by name, giving them quick hugs and asking how their families are. Volunteers chat happily with students, trying to get them to take the green tomatoes, potatoes or peppers that the food bank has in supply that week.
Every week at South and West High Schools, kids line up for bags of fresh produce, boxes of pasta and other food goods. More recently, the food banks also started offering toiletries like shampoo and body wash. Between the two schools, the food banks serve hundreds of children and their families on a weekly basis, providing meals and snacks.
The holidays can put extra strain on those families, said Yelich, who started the food bank at South four years ago with her husband, Greg Thielen. Both schools have started collecting turkeys and other holiday meal items to give to students.
In addition to meals, last year Yelich was able to provide 60 families with gift cards to grocery stores for food. She also collected gift cards to stores like Target and Walmart so that people could get clothes or gifts for their children. She collected enough that she was able to give $50 gift cards to around 190 children.
“It makes you feel like you can make a real difference in the world,” Yelich said. “To be able to provide food and give them the dignity to shop for their own children, it feels great.”
Since the food bank at South has been around for a while, Yelich said she has a strong group of volunteers. Right now she is focusing more on collecting holiday gift cards for the families.
The West High School food bank started in April. Since the group has just gotten started at the school, Rita Cordova said they are still looking for volunteers to help them drive food, as well as volunteers to set food up and run the food bank. Cordova currently runs the food bank through West’s alumni association. She is hoping to eventually get enough volunteers to make it more of a community program.
“The hardest thing is building up our volunteer base,” said Rita Cordova, who runs the West High food bank.
Both food banks get nonperishable food items from Food for Thought, a nonprofit that partners with Food Bank of the Rockies. The produce for the food banks comes from We Don’t Waste, a nonprofit that collects unused food items from caterers and grocery stores, and distributes it to different food banks and other community resource organizations throughout Denver.
Places such as the Denver Rescue Mission are also trying to round up turkeys for Thanksgiving meals. This year, the Denver Rescue Mission is aiming to get 15,000 turkeys for meals for people struggling with homelessness and poverty across the state.
In Five Points, several blocks of Bruce Randolph Avenue near the Epworth United Methodist Church will be shut down on Nov. 17th. Hundreds of volunteers will line up along a make-shift conveyor belt, filling boxes with all the necessities for a full Thanksgiving meal. The Epworth Foundation, which was founded in 2005, has been putting on the event in honor of “Daddy” Bruce Randolph, who started giving Thanksgiving meals to the hungry in Denver back in the `60s. Randolph passed away in 1994 at the age of 94.
Last year, November was proclaimed Colorado Feed-A-Family month by Gov. John Hickenlooper in honor of the foundation’s efforts. The organization gave out 6,580 boxed meals in 2017 to families as far as Colorado Springs. Each box can feed a family of eight. It was also the first year that the foundation added in a job fair with 27 different employers.
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