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Many of us are looking forward to gathering around a feast this Thanksgiving. But others won’t be so lucky. In fact, a statewide survey conducted by the nonprofit Hunger Free Colorado in April 2021 indicated that one in three individuals—33 percent of Coloradans—lack reliable access to nutritious food, a problem worsened by the pandemic and record-breaking inflation. That’s why individuals and organizations are working to ensure all community members receive the healthy sustenance they need throughout the season.
“I think the holidays are especially vulnerable times for people because there’s an underlying expectation that there should be abundance and joy,” says Holly Conn, the executive director of Mountain Roots, a nonprofit that supplies boxes of nutrient-dense foods year-round to households in southwest Colorado’s Gunnison Valley. “And when you don’t have it, you notice the lack of it more.”
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That can create a snowball effect of depression and sadness, she says, and the need for Mountain Roots’ services have more than tripled since the onset of the pandemic. Demand for the organization’s weekly food boxes increased from 32 to 100 households since 2020, and 15 families are currently on the waiting list, Conn says. For Thanksgiving and Christmas, Mountain Roots hopes to raise $20,000 to provide 400 holiday boxes filled with pasture-raised chickens, bread, and locally sourced produce for recipients to cook meals at home.
While Conn is excited to rally support for Mountain Roots, she also encourages Coloradans to look for initiatives that support their neighbors closer to home. “I think that people need to act locally as much as possible,” she says. “I would just encourage [those living] in other areas to take an extra minute and see what’s going on in their communities and see how they can help.”
One often-overlooked demographic is Denver’s student population. Metro State University (MSU) is home to the state’s first on-campus food pantry, which works with Centennial State farms and companies to provide groceries to students experiencing food insecurity. The heightened need—the pantry serves nearly 325 students weekly, up from 175 students in previous semesters—led organizers to expand from a 100-square-foot room to a 1,000-square-foot space, which will host a grand opening on campus Tuesday, November 29.
“Denver is an expensive city,” says Miguel Huerta, assistant director of community engagement and programs at MSU. “We’re nationally facing inflation, and college costs are on the rise… It takes a toll on somebody to be able to have space and time for the academics as well as support themselves and pay rent.”
MSU’s new pantry, called Rowdy’s Corner, will be set up more similarly to a grocery store than the old one, which Huerta hopes helps minimize the stigma associated with receiving support. “I think people think food insecurity is one thing, and it’s this extremity [where] you look like you’re starving and you have barely anything to eat ever,” he says. “But food insecurity is like running out of money at the end of the month. Food insecurity is skipping breakfast to make ends meet that day. It’s much more broad.”
To ensure students have the fuel they need over the upcoming fall break, the pantry will give away grocery-stuffed boxes. Read on to find out how you can help MSU and other organizations feed local communities this Thanksgiving (and even after all of the leftovers are gone).
Rowdy’s Corner at MSU
What they need: Monetary donations to stock the expanding pantry with healthy and culturally relevant food items and popular snacks, from locally made tortillas and eggplant to Uncrustables and beef jerky, and put together boxes for students to enjoy over fall break
Who it helps: MSU’s diverse student population
How you can help: The university is seeking donations for its Roadrunner Tuesday fundraiser on November 29—but you can schedule your gift early here.
What they need: Monetary donations to fund 200 Thanksgiving food boxes (and an additional 200 for Christmas)
Who it helps: Households in the rural Gunnison Valley area
How you can help: Donate here ($50 pays for the contents of one box) or sign up to help pack or distribute boxes here.
Ms. Betty’s Harvest Madsgiving
What they need: In 2022, Ms. Betty’s Harvest Madsgiving—an endeavor led by chef Tajahi Cooke and his wife, Danielle—produced 7,800 meals for community members across the Front Range and beyond. But this year, the pair are seeking resources to provide 10,000 meals, including donations of money and food.
Who it helps: The Cookes feed individuals at various Denver area shelters, including the Salvation Army, Urban Peak, and Volunteers of America women’s shelter; churches like Mean Street Ministries; and select locations in Grand and Eagle counties and the Poudre Canyon area.
How you can help: It takes a ton of ingredients and a village of 200 volunteers to prep, cook, and deliver thousands of meals. Help fund the cause here or email Taj at firstname.lastname@example.org to contribute ingredients (the Cookes will pick up everything from fresh poultry to produce).
African Community Center Refugee First Thanksgiving
What they need: Welcome Denver’s newest community members by digging into a buffet-style feast of global fare at the Refugee First Thanksgiving potluck dinner, which is back in person after a two-year hiatus. The event is free, but donations of funds, hygiene care bags, and/or culturally appropriate spices are encouraged.
Who it helps: The refugee and immigrant families supported by African Community Center and Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains. In 2020, the two Denver-based human services agencies supported more than 4,700 individuals from across 12 countries.
How you can help: Bring a reusable grocery bag packed with hygiene items or spices to the event, which will take place at Aurora’s Summit Conference & Event Center (411 Sable Blvd., Aurora) on November 21 from 5:30–8:30 p.m. (reserve your time slot here). Or drop them off at African Community Center (925 S. Niagara St., Ste. 200) or Ruby’s Market (1569 S. Pearl St.).
Kitchen One for One
What they need: Monetary donations for the nonprofit to cook and distribute plates of tacos at a Dignity Tuesday event on November 22 at Golden’s BGOLDN Pantry, where 100 families will receive Thanksgiving feast packages, which include a turkey, pie, fresh produce, flower arrangement, and even a Christmas tree. Kitchen One for One is also collecting turkeys and donations to dish out meals at Sox Place, a shelter for youth experiencing homelessness on Wednesday, November 23.
Who it Helps: Community members in need on the Front Range
How you can help: Donate here to support Kitchen One for One’s holiday events, as well as year-round initiatives to supply warm meals to at-risk populations. Or sign up to volunteer.
Denver Rescue Mission
What they need: 15,000 frozen turkeys; boxed mashed potatoes and stuffing; and canned vegetables, yams, and fruit
Who it helps: The turkeys and sides are distributed to Denverites in need by 140 schools, nonprofits, and churches, in addition to being prepared and served at Denver Rescue Mission outposts around town. Another 3,000 Thanksgiving Banquet-in-a-Boxes (turkey dinners with all the fixings) are given out the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.
How you can help: Donate a frozen turkey (12 pounds or more) or other festive non-perishables by Wednesday, November 23. The drop-off locations are the Lawrence Street Shelter (1120 Park Avenue West) or Ministry Outreach Center (5725 E. 39th Avenue). You can also bring goods to the Denver Broncos Turkey Drive Event at UCHealth Training Center (13403 E. Broncos Parkway, Englewood) on Saturday, November 19, from 10 a.m.–1 p.m.
What they need: For a special Thanksgiving week food distribution, Project Worthmore—which provides programs that foster community and increase quality of life among Denver-area refugees—is collecting culturally appropriate treats, including halal meat, dates, persimmons, and pomegranates.
Who it helps: Refugees from over 25 countries in Project Worthmore’s network
How you can help: Drop off donations before Thursday, November 17, at the organization’s headquarters (1666 Elmira Street). The nonprofit is also hosting a holiday toy drive in December, and accepts contributions of jasmine and basmati rice, cooking oil, and laundry detergent throughout the winter.
The Righteous Project
What they need: The Righteous Project, an organization dedicated to educating youth about financial literacy and entrepreneurship in low-income areas, and Aurora’s Plates by the Pound BBQ are raising funds and collecting food items to give away 160 turkeys and hot meals (chef Aaron Gonerway’s turkey, yams, and mashed potatoes).
Who it helps: Community members in Aurora who attend the event on Sunday, November 20, at 12 p.m. at 1701 Chambers Road, Aurora
How you can help: Donate money here—or drop off turkeys at the event (hams and other proteins are also accepted).
Jewish Family Service
What they need: Monetary and food donations to fill Thanksgiving boxes, which will be distributed to households on Wednesday, November 23, with all of the ingredients to make a traditional meal
Who it helps: Individuals and families facing hunger or food insecurity
How you can help: Because the organization can buy items at reduced cost, monetary donations make the biggest impact ($98 pays for a four-person meal). However, the Jewish Family Service pantry (3201 S. Tamarac Drive) is accepting donations of Thanksgiving ingredients, from turkeys to canned pumpkin pie mix, until Friday, November 11.
Project Angel Heart
What they need: Project Angel Heart—a nonprofit that provides medically tailored meals to those living with life-threatening illnesses—is hosting its annual Pie in the Sky fundraiser this month. Each fresh-baked pie sold allows the organization to prepare and deliver three free meals to a Coloradan in need.
Who it helps: The more than 4,500 people living in 18 Colorado counties who rely on Project Angel Heart’s services, which includes providing over 640,000 meals per year
How you can help: Order an apple or pecan pie by Wednesday, November 16, to pick up at locations in Denver, Boulder, Pueblo, and Colorado Springs on Tuesday, November 22, or Project Angel Heart’s Globeville headquarters on Wednesday, November 23. Or make a monetary donation ($30 buys three meals).
What they need: Monetary donations to support no-cost food boxes, which feature seasonal produce and healthy pantry items, that are delivered weekly to residents of Denver experiencing food insecurity
Who it helps: Families in Globeville and Elyria-Swansea (GES), one of the city’s oldest food deserts, experiencing hunger
How you can help: Because the GrowHaus can purchase food in bulk at a reduced cost, monetary donations make the biggest impact; $50 covers the cost of one food box, or 20 meals, for one family in the neighborhood. The GrowHaus hopes to raise funds on Colorado Gives Day, Tuesday, December 6—the largest nonprofit movement in the state—to help the organization continue delivering food boxes to 1,000 families each week. Schedule your gift for Colorado Gives Day here.