BY PAMELA WALSHE
As Denver Public Schools extended the 2020 spring break last March due to COVID-19, Brooke Webb knew Ellis Elementary School families faced a particularly difficult challenge. Over 80% of students at the school on the corner of Mexico Ave. and Dahlia St. are on the free and reduced lunch program. Students would not only miss out on in-person education, but also access to consistent meals. Neighborhood families needed food—now.
Webb, Ellis PTO founder, corralled a team to get food to Ellis families. I went to work coordinating food donations from Virginia Village neighbors. The Steele Elementary community also provided support for the cause. The foundations of The LoVVe Project began to grow.
Partnering with Ellis staff to reach families in need, LoVVe initially distributed goods on Webb’s front lawn in Virginia Village every two weeks. Neighbors dropped bags of food and supplies at my front door to help out. “We really thought this would just be a stop-gap measure to get us through a few weeks until things returned to normal,” Webb said. “But we realized that the pandemic wasn’t going away soon and the need for food was ongoing.”
Strengthening LoVVe for our Neighbors
As weeks turned into months, LoVVe gained momentum and support. Matt and Sheri Salis of Stigma, a Denver-based non-profit working to end food scarcity, selected us as one of five DPS school beneficiaries of a CARES grant and spent $20,000 purchasing fresh meat, produce, grocery staples, and refrigeration/freezer units for LoVVe. The CARES Act Emergency Relief Grant Fund was created to provide emergency financial aid assistance to students impacted by coronavirus as stipulated by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES).
District 6 Denver City Councilman Paul Kashmann purchased $2,000 in clothing and later spent $4,000 on personal hygiene and household cleaning supplies. With donations outgrowing my living room, the Celebration Community Church near Ellis stepped up to house our refrigerators and inventory, as well as provided a bevy of volunteers to distribute supplies to our neighbors arm-in-arm with us. Volunteers have given more than 750 hours of their time to help food reach more than 200 neighbors every two weeks.
Most recently, Kroenke Sports Charities sponsored a one-time event in January, covering all food costs and bringing mascots from three local sports teams, creating an especially celebratory event for families.
These contributions transformed LoVVe from a scrappy front yard distribution of canned goods to a top-notch food-and-necessities bank—providing more than 2,250 boxes of food and supplies so far. LoVVe also works to be highly responsive to the specific needs of our local families. As the cold weather approached, families told us they didn’t have adequate warm clothing, so we organized an event to provide new coats, socks, underwear, scarves, and hats to each of our families. We learned that special holiday meals for our Latino community included pozole and tamales, so we provided them in November and December.
A key guiding principle for the program is ensuring the food is highly nutritious. Funding from our partners ensures we can procure healthy local food, such as grass-fed beef from Buckner Family Ranch in Boulder, and fresh produce from Denver-based non-profit The LittleJohn Produce Project.
The special care is clearly appreciated by the families we serve, as one recent text from a recipient made clear. “Thanks so much for your help. Since I arrived in the country, you have been my great support. I would like at some point to give back to others as well. Thank you, God bless your team!”
Bridging the gap to 501c3
It is a tribute to our neighborhood and local partners that we’ve achieved what we have so far. While these momentous milestones brought LoVVe to this point, our ability to continue to provide this level of service to our neighbors is uncertain.
We are literally planning week-by-week as funding is so tenuous at the moment. Our biggest challenge at the moment is that although LoVVe is a registered non-profit organization in Colorado, we await 501c3 status from the IRS (expected May 2021). This waiting period keeps the program in a grey area where we are not yet eligible to seek grant funding or sustained corporate partnerships.
Until our 501c3 status is approved, we need your help now more than ever. Webb noted, “Even if you don’t live in Denver or Colorado, people are inspired when they see others doing so much good in their communities and they want to be a part of it. It’s taken a lot of work to get this far, but it’s a model that any community could put in place as long as they have passion around the conviction that neighbors need to support neighbors.” If you agree, we hope you’ll lend your support.
You are our neighbors and our neighbors are in need. Help us get through our funding gap and support LoVVe in the long run by making a one-time or ongoing contribution at www.thelovveproject.com.