BY MELANIE ULLE
In a town with seemingly unceasing growth and abundant opportunities it feels like we should be doing better. According to the city of Denver, our economy diversified in the expansionary period after the recession of years past, and those industries continue to grow year after year. Unemployment remains low at 3.4% and the character of our populace is described as “an easygoing crowd of ambitious, progressive-minded fitness fanatics and nature lovers…” by U.S. News and World Reports. We’re the BMOC, but without being overly braggy – just good-looking, smart, successful, funny, and well-liked. Or are we? Are we all those things and also secretly a big nasty fraud?
How do we explain away the dichotomy of our growth and our failures? We know that 1 in 10 Coloradans struggle with food insecurity. A 2023 poll revealed that almost 50% of Colorado’s renters fear losing their housing due to cost increases. These numbers are indicative of a city heading the way of other big cities that grow in ways that eat away at the middle class and displace those with the least, serving only those at the very top. That’s not hot.
The city continues to contend with this tale of two Denvers. It feels like a reckoning is on the horizon and we are seeing government leaders recognize that the path we are on is unsustainable and inhumane and the time for active action is now.
It’s frequently through acts of service that we can replace the feeling of overwhelm with a sense of purpose. But where does the average Jane find a way to engage and which issue does she tackle when looking at our city’s giant messy pile of challenges – insufficient affordable housing, food insecurity, inaccessible health care, lack of quality ECE, the list goes on and on.
For now, let’s focus solely on the issue of hunger because food is something everyone can get their heads around. Food is the master unifier, linking all of us regardless of background, experience, geography, or generation. And moreover, if we don’t narrow the scope of the problems, Jane will just lose her damn mind, get wasted and find herself swimming in Smith Lake. Denver has no fewer than a million organizations (Jane says she loves hyperbole) including those serving the entire metro area. But what’s a volunteer or donor to do? How can an individual bring their time, talent and/or treasure to the table and be part of the solution?
Fortunately, because of the astounding creativity and generosity of our citizenry, there are options to fit Jane wherever she’s at on her volunteer journey. Let’s start with an organization serving our students. Food for Thought strives to eliminate weekend hunger for children in the Denver Metro Area by providing food PowerSacks for the weekend, because they say, “unfortunately, the lunch they receive at school on Friday is often the last meal they eat until back at school on Monday morning. Teachers and Principals consistently report that many students come to school on Monday mornings hungry, unable to focus and learn.”
This organization is near and dear to my family, and we have at least five members of our large Catholic crew who serve as regular volunteers and in service leadership roles. This is an entirely volunteer-run organization, and they could use Jane’s help packing bags or if she was feeling particularly generous, she could also donate to give a bag.
Food Bank of the Rockies is ready for Jane to volunteer alone, or for Jane and all her friends to bring their talents as a team! They have various volunteer roles at their distribution center for people of all abilities. Under the leadership of the ridiculously talented Erin Pulling, Food Bank of the Rockies is the biggest food distribution ninja in Colorado and their impact is vast. They provide food to more than 800 Hunger Relief Partners across Colorado and Wyoming, operate mobile food pantries and distribute food and necessities directly to Coloradans of all ages.
There are a number of other nonprofit players with whom Jane can either give of her time or make a meaningful contribution to help our friends and neighbors as they tackle the seemingly endless challenges of living in a city that’s trying to navigate the growing gulf between the haves and the have-nots.
A starting list for additional organizations to consider includes GrowHaus, Fresh Food Connect, Metro Caring, RE:Vision, Sprout City Farms, Denver Food Rescue, Denver Urban Gardens, Colorado Food Cluster, Jewish Family Service, Bienvenidos Food Bank though there are many, many others.
When the state of the city becomes overwhelming, when the head starts to spin, it’s best to remember this quote from Gandhi, (someone who knew a thing or two about service and sacrifice), “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Focusing on one narrow area widens the mind’s ability to navigate where to engage and creates a larger opportunity for meaningful action. Food+ Volunteerism= Connection. Go Jane, go!