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The night before Thanksgiving, husband-and-wife duo Tajahi and Danielle Cooke pull an all-nighter of epic proportions. Their “Madsgiving” operation will take over kitchens in Zeppelin Station and the former Johnson and Wales campus, with a team of 300 volunteers cooking, packaging, and delivering Turkey Day meals throughout Denver and beyond.“This is truly bigger than us,” Danielle says. “It takes a community to feed a community.”
Amid food price inflation and increased rates of homelessness in the Denver metro area, many local organizations are calling on volunteers and donors to help feed the community this holiday season. According to a 2023 survey from the Colorado Health Foundation, more than one-third of Coloradans are worried about affording food in the coming year, and more than one in 10 have skipped meals in the past year because they couldn’t afford it. “As budgets get tighter, families are having to make tough choices between food and other bills—and extras for the holidays may not be possible,” says Ellie Agar, a spokeswoman for Hunger Free Colorado.
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So, the Cookes are ramping up production. Ms. Betty’s Harvest Madsgiving, named in honor of chef Tajahi’s late grandmother, fed 550 people when it started five years ago. This year, the goal is to reach 15,000.
Read on to find out more about Madsgiving and nine other organizations you can help in feeding local communities this holiday season.
What they need: In 2022, Ms. Betty’s Harvest Madsgiving produced 8,693 meals for community members across the Front Range. But this year, the Cookes are seeking the resources for 15,000 meals, including money and food donations.
Who it helps: The event delivers meals to various Denver-area shelters, including the Salvation Army, Urban Peak, and Volunteers of America’s women’s shelter, as well as churches like Mean Street Ministries. This year, it’s also providing meals to restaurant workers who are working on Thanksgiving.
What they need: Monetary donations to stock the food pantry with healthy, culturally relevant ingredients and popular snacks, from locally made tortillas and eggplant to Uncrustables and beef jerky.
Who it helps: Metropolitan State University of Denver’s diverse student population, 35 percent of which experiences food insecurity. The pantry serves nearly 800 students weekly, up from 325 students in the spring 2023 semester. Last November, organizers expanded the pantry from a 100-square-foot room to a 1,000-square-foot space.
How you can help: The university is seeking donations for its Roadrunner Tuesday fundraiser which goes live on November 28—but you can schedule your gift early here.
What they need: Monetary donations to fund 1,000 holiday meal boxes filled with locally grown produce between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Who it helps: Households in the rural Gunnison Valley area.
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 more than 25 countries in Project Worthmore’s network.
How you can help: Drop off donations before Thursday, November 16, at the organization’s headquarters (1666 Elmira St.). The nonprofit is also looking for donations of diapers, hygiene products, and cleaning supplies.
What they need: Hygiene care bags, which will be given out to each refugee family who attends the 18th annual Refugee First Thanksgiving event on November 20.
Who it helps: The refugee and immigrant families supported by Denver’s African Community Center. In 2023, the organization welcomed its highest-ever number of individuals—close to 1,500—arriving from countries including Ukraine, Afghanistan, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and more.
How you can help: Bring a reusable grocery bag packed with these hygiene items. Drop it off at the African Community Center (925 S. Niagara St., Suite 200) or Ruby’s Market (1569 S. Pearl St.) during normal business hours on or before November 19. Looking for other ways to help out? Host a holiday donation drive in December to benefit refugees or put together a food welcome box for a newly arrived family, in partnership with Ruby’s Market.
What they need: 15,000 frozen turkeys; boxed mashed potatoes and stuffing; and canned vegetables, yams, fruit, and gravy.
Who it helps: On top of serving participants at its own locations, Denver Rescue Mission partners with 140 schools, nonprofits, and churches to distribute the turkeys and sides to Denverites in need. Another 3,000 Thanksgiving Banquet-in-a-Boxes (turkey dinners with all the fixings) are given out to families before Thanksgiving.
How you can help: Donate a frozen turkey (12 pounds or more) or other festive non-perishables by Wednesday, November 22. The drop-off locations are the Lawrence Street Shelter (1120 Park Avenue West), Ministry Outreach Center (5725 E. 39th Ave.), or the Crossing (6090 Smith Road). Those in the southern suburbs can also bring goods to the Park Meadows Red Rocks Church (9995 Park Meadows Drive, Lone Tree) from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, November 18.
What they need: Donations to fill Thanksgiving boxes, which will be distributed to households with all of the ingredients to make a traditional holiday meal.
Who it helps: Individuals and families facing hunger or food insecurity.
How you can help: Because the nonprofit can buy items at reduced cost, monetary donations make the biggest impact ($107 pays for a four-person meal). The food donation deadline was November 11, but you can still participate in a virtual food drive.
What they need: Monetary donations for the nonprofit food truck to cook and distribute meals throughout the Denver metro area. Kitchen One for One is also fielding volunteers and turkey donations for a Thanksgiving meal on November 23 at Sox Place, a shelter for homeless youth.
Who it helps: Homeless and impoverished community members across the Front Range, especially in Denver, Littleton, and Idaho Springs.
What they need: Project Angel Heart—a nonprofit that provides medically tailored meals to those living with life-threatening illnesses—is hosting its Cookie Doughnation fundraiser. Money raised helps the organization prepare and deliver meals free of charge to Coloradans in need.
Who it helps: More than 4,500 people living in 18 Colorado counties who rely on Project Angel Heart’s services, which includes providing more than 640,000 meals per year.
What they need: Monetary donations to support no-cost food boxes, featuring seasonal produce and healthy pantry items, which will be delivered weekly to food-insecure residents of Denver.
Who it helps: The GrowHaus started by serving families in Globeville and Elyria-Swansea, one of the city’s oldest food deserts, experiencing hunger. But it expanded food access to other Denver communities through partnerships with the Denver Public Library and Boys and Girls Clubs, reaching 5,000 community members weekly.
How you can help: The GrowHaus can purchase food in bulk at a reduced cost, so monetary donations are especially welcome; $50 covers the cost of one food box, or you can donate gift cards to families. The GrowHaus hopes to raise funds on Colorado Gives Day, Tuesday, December 5—the largest nonprofit movement in the state—to help the organization continue delivering food boxes. Schedule your gift for Colorado Gives Day here.