Volunteers gathered on dark, cold morning under a Denver viaduct to pack food for hungry students

Volunteers gathered on dark, cold morning under a Denver viaduct to pack food for hungry students

By Anne Rowe for DPS board, April 10, 2020

Volunteers from Food For Thought began their work day Friday before the sun did.

At 5: 30 a.m. in 22-degree weather, a handful of men and women gathered under a downtown viaduct to unpack boxes of peanut butter, soup, crackers and other non-perishable food items. The goal was to prepare 3,500 bags of food to be delivered to 12 locations around the Denver area where hungry families would be waiting.

“This is not a job for anybody. Obviously we don’t have a building, that’s why we’re under the viaduct,” said Food For Thought founder Bob Bell as he gestured to the program’s staging station, located near the Regency Athletic Complex on Auraria Campus. “It’s all volunteers. The only thing we spend money on is the food.”

The non-profit organization Food For Thought partners with the Food Bank of the Rockies to deliver bags of food to 53 Denver schools every Friday. When Denver Public Schools closed its doors last week to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Food For Thought was no longer able to deliver the bags to students as normal. Instead of delivering to individual schools, it will distribute 400 bags to each of the 12 designated locations where DPS will be handing out breakfast and lunch to students and their families.

When Denver schools closed last week, volunteers scrambled to unload all the food they had and deliver it to the schools before kids went home. Instead of delivering one bag to each student, they were able to give two per child, volunteer coordinator Jeane Larkins said..

“The schools were grateful,” Larkins said. “Our plan is to push out as much food as we possibly can.”

After giving away their supplies for this week, Food For Thought made do Friday with a new shipment from the Food Bank of the Rockies. Provisions included bags of rice, jars of peanut butter, cans of soup, kettle corn, oatmeal, canned peaches, Ritz crackers and Oreos. Volunteers filled each bag with one of each item.

“I grew up in this neighborhood. This is my town. I’ve been here for 60 years. It doesn’t make sense to me that kids in this town are hungry,” Bell said. “I know first-hand that for them, it isn’t so much now that the food is there, that’s a beautiful thing, but what’s really happening is it’s created an environment in that school where they don’t worry about food. They know Food For Thought’s gonna show up for them.”

Since Bell and his partner John Thielen started the program eight years ago on St. Patrick’s Day, there has never been a Friday when Food For Thought didn’t deliver groceries, Bell said. The program has grown to include 7,000 registered volunteers.

Changes were made to adapt to the fear of spreading the novel coronavirus.

On a normal Friday, 100 will show up to help pack bags of food but because of the need for social distancing, they’ve had to cut that number to 75, Bell said. The program provided rubber gloves for volunteers, and some also wore masks. The usual doughnuts and coffee breakfast for volunteers was suspended.

“We’ve been hearing from DPS all week with basically a plea: ‘Would you please do what you do? We have no ability to get the food to these families without Food For Thought,’” Bell said. “Can we do more? We know we can do more.”

Volunteer Elizabeth Dominguez sorts canned food ...

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

Volunteer Elizabeth Dominguez sorts canned food under the viaduct near the corner of Colfax Ave. and Osage St. in Denver, Colorado on Friday, March 20, 2020.

How to Help

Food For Thought accepts donations on their website, and anyone can sign up to volunteer. Those interested in helping out can also donate food to the Food Bank of the Rockies.

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