The Face of Hunger

Colorado is the 16th-wealthiest state in the nation. So why are so many of our neighbors still having trouble putting food on the table?

September 2007

Olive Crawford
Volunteer Coordinator, Food Bank of the Rockies

Olive Crawford knew she'd hit rock bottom when she found herself standing on her front doorstep with a shotgun in her hand. She wasn't just defending her home from the crime in her southwest Denver neighborhood; it was a stance of defeat. She could no longer give her three children a safe place to sleep or a good dinner to eat. In an agonizing decision, she sent the two oldest (then seven and eight) to her sister's home in California.

It was a last-ditch attempt to slow the downward spiral into which she'd been born. "I remember scrounging around in garbage cans trying to find yummy things to eat," she says of her childhood in rundown Watts, Los Angeles. After moving to rural Oregon with her once-absentee father, she later married, divorced, and landed in Denver at age 25 with a second husband. Another divorce found her raising her kids in one of Denver's roughest areas while holding down a low-wage job at a title insurance agency. "A lot of times there was a decision as to whether to pay the electric bill or to buy groceries," she remembers. "There was no McDonald's, no movies or soda pop or any of that; it was just the bare basics."

After marrying a third time and moving to rural Brighton, Crawford felt stable enough to have a fourth child and even become a foster parent, which opened the door to volunteering at the Food Bank of the Rockies. "I began to see the scope of all the people who needed help—they were just like I was," she says. "It was so easy to help them. There was no support system there when I was in that situation."

Today, Crawford and her husband of 35 years enjoy a simple lifestyle on 20 acres of farmland in Watkins, and her kids are grown with college degrees and solid jobs. At her full-time position at the food bank, she guides people through the food sorting and distribution process. Volunteer work allows the food bank to donate 22.3 million pounds of food each year—enough for 47,000 meals a day—to Colorado and Wyoming hunger agencies and food pantries. Crawford takes the volunteers under her wing, helping to provide the kind of support she once dreamed of. "When you yourself are hungry, it's one thing; but when your kids are hungry, it's really difficult," she says through tears. "That's why I put so much into the food bank—because it means so much to help all those folks."