We Have a Food Pantry!

It was a cold December day. Kara and I, the two VISTAs at MHYC, got into Kara’s car and drove to The Food Bank of the Rockies for our Agency Orientation. We followed her Garmin’s directions all the way to northwest Denver past the Purina factory.

We weren’t sure what to expect. How big was this place? Was it an organized non-profit or one of those that have the vision but not the know-how? How many people would be in training with us? What would we learn about the whole process?

Whatever our expectations were, they were shattered by the awesome training we received. We were shocked when we started our training and learned that there were at least a dozen other people there for the Agency Orientation training. All of them had a vision: to feed the people they help. In the training, there were many churches that didn’t just preach the gospel but followed it. There were quite a few agencies that helped ex-inmates get back on their feet by supplying them with food for the inmates and their families. There were natives of Mexico that helped recent immigrants adapt to American life by giving them basic food staples. It was uplifting to be in the same room with these people.

What we learned in training was that Food Bank of the Rockies (we affectionately nicknamed it FBR) has a highly organized system. Agencies can come in and volunteer to receive food credits or they can get the food by purchasing it. The food ordering process is really easy, as it’s done all online. Two days later, the food is packed and ready to be loaded.

Where does the food come from? Our orientation told us that over 19 million pounds of the food come from donations. That is nineteen……million…..pounds! The donations come from various sources including reclamation (slightly dented cans, almost stale food, etc.), organizations like Denver’s Table Food Rescue and Feeding America, local produce, food drives, and the local food industry. The next largest source is from USDA Commodities, which is food donated from the government. The commodities account for over 15 million pounds of food. Lastly, FBR purchases about 6 million pounds on it’s own to keep up the supply.

What was really amazing to Kara and I was that FBR serves mostly children: 42% of their clients are children while 10% are under five years old. Seniors represent about 5% of the clients they serve. FBR reports that 42% of the households they serve have at least one working adult and 14% are homeless. So it really sounds like the people that get the food are in dire need of help.

FBR has a symbiotic process in place that allows the organization to function, while allowing agencies to get the food they need to help their population. Here’s how it works: for every three hours of volunteer time one person puts in, he or she earns a 20 pound food credit to their agency. Now, we have sent anywhere from 10-50 volunteers to FBR in the past year. So we had a lot of credit just waiting to be spent. Credits did expire so we had to get to work fast.

As soon as we were back from the holiday break, Kara and I got to work on filling up our pantry for the Corpsmembers. With help from staff member, Michelle Martinez, we placed our order online. We ordered all kinds of things from hand sanitizer to noodles. After an order of 2500 pounds, we now have tons of crackers, cereal, and juice. The pantry is set up in the basement and the food is ready to go to those in need.

I can’t wait to start giving food to the Corpsmembers that, before us, weren’t sure what they were going to eat. Thanks to Kara, Michelle, and me, no Corpsmember or their family will go to bed starving!

-Melissa Stoneking, AmeriCorps VISTA

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