AURORA | Three years after it almost shut down the Friends of St. Andrew soup kitchen held its 35th anniversary Thursday in a celebration attended by Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila and Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman.
Located a stone’s throw from East Colfax Avenue on Dallas Street, the soup kitchen serves hot lunches to Aurora’s poor and homeless residents five days a week. It also provides food baskets to families and serves as an address for about 100 people to send and receive mail.
St. Andrew’s was founded in 1986 by a group of Queen of Peace Catholic Church members who saw a need to serve Aurora’s residents along the Colfax corridor. The church originally provided six months worth of funding for a program — months that turned into years, then decades.
Some of the original volunteers are still around. Bernadine Zagarella and her husband have been Queen of Peace members since 1969, and were part of the group that founded the soup kitchen. Watching the kitchen grow over the years has been a deep source of pride. For many years she worked at the front desk, getting to hear the life stories and build relationships with St. Andrew’s regulars.
“We’ve seen people transform their lives because they found a community here,” she said. “God’s been very good to us.”
In 2018, the soup kitchen almost shut down after ownership of the property was transferred to Regis University. The church put together an offer to purchase the building, but negotiations fell through. An anonymous local businessman stepped up and purchased the property on behalf of St. Andrew’s, preventing it from having to close or relocate.
The soup kitchen’s services have become more valuable than ever during the pandemic. The kitchen served 52,000 meals during the first year of the pandemic, a 100% increase from the previous year.
Director Siobhan Latimer said that recently requests for food baskets — a basket of food designed to last a family three days that people can receive once a month — has gone down, but that it is still serving about 1,000 meals a week.
At the event, Archbishop Aquila praised St. Andrew’s work and announced that a $34,000 donation that the diocese had received to fund charity work would be going to the kitchen.
Queen of Peace head priest Father Felix Medina-Algaba said that none of it would be possible without the dozens of volunteers who keep St. Andrew’s running day in and day out.
“Every time I visit I am touched by how volunteers treat every person as an individual, not just as another person in line,” he said.
Tyrone Crocker has been going to St. Andrew’s for meals “just about every day” for the past three years. He praised the kitchen for staying open during the pandemic and being reliable.
“I have a lot of respect for this place,” he said. “They’ve always been open. They’ve never left me hanging.”