Pandemic hits metro food banks hard with more need, fewer volunteers

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AURORA | With surging unemployment and need, metro Denver food banks and soup kitchens serving Aurorans say they need volunteers and donations — or both — but are so far keeping people fed.

Staff at food resource organizations told the Sentinel they have found themselves in a Catch 22, seeing as much as triple the usual demand for free food while fewer volunteers work harder and harder. 

“We are just going through stuff at such a rapid rate,” said Siobhan Latimer, program director for Aurora soup kitchen Friends of St. Andrew.  Typically, the soup kitchen doles out some 500 hot lunches per week for lines of guests, mostly homeless people, but all struggling to feed the themselves. Now, the food resource near the intersection of East Colfax Avenue and Dallas Street is on track to serve up about 1,000 such meals — all while maintaining social distancing. 

So far, Friends of St. Andrew hasn’t run out of food. 

“It certainly could happen,” Latimer said.

Hunger is a new reality for many Americans as business restrictions and the novel coronavirus pandemic increasingly leave workers with slashed hours or no work at all. 

More than 46,000 people filed for initial unemployment benefits in Colorado just last week as coronavirus-related job losses grew, bringing claims since the economic shutdown began to 127,393, the state labor department said Thursday. Last week, Colorado paid $29.8 million in unemployment benefits, far more than the average of $19 million paid out weekly during the height of the Great Recession. 

Latimer said Friends of St. Andrew needs money donations and also specific food donations to spruce up hot lunches: granola bars, fruit, crackers and the like. 

Down Colfax, the surging need has also hit Little Flower Assistance Center, located near the intersection with Lansing Street. The food and clothing resource center, run by Catholic Charities, has seen a 20 percent increase in families picking up a 10-day supply of food, said spokeswoman Nissa LaPoint. 

More food is flowing from Food Bank of the Rockies into Little Flower and other food resources groups, she said. Typically, Little Flower goes through up to eight thousand pounds of food per week. Now, the group is distributing about 12,000 pounds of food every week. 

Little Flower’s food boxes come stocked with vegetables and fruits and items with a longer shelf-life. 

“We expect there to be another bump in demand,” LaPoint said. 

Several weeks into the pandemic, the strain on Little Flower presented itself early, LaPoint said. Volunteers spooked by the danger of infection stopped coming in, whether because they were elderly and at-risk themselves or afraid of infecting their families. 

New volunteers stepped up, but the food pantry still needs help. 

Food Bank of the Rockies also has a man-power shortage of its own.

Spokeswoman Janie Giansotos urged people who can donate not to donate food. The food bank secures its food resources directly from wholesalers akin to grocery stores. So far, Giansotos said securing food hasn’t been the problem, but they need cash to keep feeding people in trouble. 

The food bank serving 30 counties is seeing “double, maybe even triple the number of people who need our help,” she said. That means more volunteers, but social distancing guidelines have also restricted the number of people that can be in the food bank at one time to clean, disinfect and load food shipments to resources like Little Flower. 

“We need volunteers,” she said. 

The Denver grocery store Metro Caring, which provides free groceries, serves many Aurora residents. That resource, too, needs volunteers, said spokeswoman Judith Ackerman. 

Here’s how to contribute to Aurora-area food resources and receive free food. 

  • Friends of St. Andrews 1525 Dallas Street . Hot lunch program is from 10:15 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. Available to all. Donate money online at https://www.queenofpeace.net/giving . Call 303-364-1056. 
  • Little Flower Assistance Program 11149 E 14th Ave. No appointment necessary for food pick-up. Serving anyone, not just Aurora residents. Donate money online and sign-up to volunteer at https://ccdenver.org/covid19/ 
  • Interfaith Alliance 1553 Clinton Street. Food packages available for pick-up appointment only, only for Aurora residents. Appointments available between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, have to provide Aurora residency. Call 303-360-0260 after 8:30 a.m. to make an appointment for the same day.  Recommended to call early because of limited staff. Please keep trying if you get a busy signal. Donate money and food online at http://www.aurorainterfaithcommunityservices.org/ 
  • Aurora Warms the Night is currently closed and referring guests to the above food resources, as well as the Aurora Day Resource Center, 13387 E 19th Pl. Open 7:30am-1:00 p.m. Offering breakfast daily and a grab and go lunch, as well as shelter space. 
  • Metro Caring 1100 E. 18th Ave. To make an appointment by phone: Call at 303-860-7200 between 10:00-11:30 a.m. Mondays, 6:00-7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, or 12:30-3:00 p.m. Thursdays. Apply to volunteer at https://www.metrocaring.org/volunteer 

To find other food resources, visit