Note: Originally published in the February 2017 issue of Life on Capitol Hill.
Homelessness, affordable housing and drug addiction: these are crises we’ve grown accustomed to thinking about in Central Denver. Kids going hungry, though? That’s not something commonly discussed.
In the U.S., nearly 13 million children live in food-insecure households. According to nonprofit Hunger Free Colorado (hungerfreecolorado.org), 1 in 10 Coloradans and 1 in 6 Colorado children struggle with hunger.
“I remember one day I was finishing up at work and these two boys dropped in to see some friends of theirs at the school,” says Manual High School nurse Lucy Roberts. “They didn’t go to Manual and were on their schools’ soccer team, and they weighed 80, maybe 90 pounds and stood 5 feet 10 inches or 11 inches tall. It was clear they were undernourished, but their mom was raising them by herself and food was scarce.”
For Roberts, the effort to start a food bank is already underway. More on that follows. For a metro-wide group of nurses Roberts is part of, however, food banks at their schools are still in the planning phase.
On Friday, Jan. 19, Roberts, representatives from DCIS Montebello and Deborah Miller, Advisory Board member of Food For Thought, an organization aiming to end weekend hunger in Denver’s Title 1 elementary schools, dropped in on the food bank at South High School. South High operates a food bank serving over 100 students 1,200 to 1,800 pounds of food a week and has been able to sustain tremendous growth of late thanks to a recent uptick in community donations. Roberts and the others assembled hoped to get a sense of the logistics of the South program as they plan their own efforts at their own schools.
"I also see this as an opportunity to work with these high school kids who are going to be on their own in a few years. Some of them are actually taking care of kids—siblings—and for them to understand nutrition, how to make things, that’s huge."
Miller, a former principal at Columbian Elementary, is working with Roberts as she expands Manual’s food bank. Columbian Elementary was the first Food For Thought program site; there are now 21 such sites across the metro area. Originally a program targeting elementary schools, Food For Thought is now expanding into middle and high schools.
“Children, no matter their age, will do better in school, will do better all around, when they are not hungry,” Miller says. What Miller likes about both Food For Thought and the program at South is “there’s no stigma. As a principal, one of my concerns was who gets the food? The fact that [these programs] serve every child is really important to me.”
Watching the students file in on Jan. 19 to pick up food items, one saw students seeking a full order of groceries and others just dropping by with friends for an apple or granola bar. None were turned away.
“This relationship with Deborah and Food For Thought has been transformative for Manual,” Roberts says. “From the standpoint of a nurse, for the last two years I have seen kids who are hungry, malnourished, in need. In my world, food is medicine. I reached out to Deborah and [the Food For Thought program was] up and running within a couple of weeks.”
Roberts sees other benefits to these programs.
“I also see this as an opportunity to work with these high school kids who are going to be on their own in a few years. Some of them are actually taking care of kids—siblings—and for them to understand nutrition, how to make things, that’s huge,” she says.
While Food For Thought is doing great things for students at Manual, Roberts sees even greater demand than the program can handle, thus the new food pantry. And, she envisions a pantry at Manual that is for not just Manual students but kids from other schools, too. Roberts’ pantry at Manual is basically up and running, but in truth it is small and Roberts needs help. For now, the pantry is a cabinet in a small room stocked with peanut butter, crackers, mac ‘n’ cheese. To provide perspective, the South program utilizes an entire classroom, with a wall of built-in cabinets and a large, walk-in storage closet.
Roberts says she could use more lockable cabinets and a fridge so she can keep fresh items on hand. Direct donations of these items or cash with which to buy the items (and foodstuffs) would be greatly appreciated. And, working as a full-time nurse, if Roberts has a health emergency needing immediate attention, she has to go—she can’t always stay with the pantry and run it. So, she needs volunteers.
If you’d like to help, email email@example.com. You can also call Manual’s main phone number: 720-423-6300.
LIFE will continue to cover this story as it develops.