Written by Ruth Warren
For the past week I have joined Hunger Free Colorado on site visits around Denver. I was struck in both visits by the invisibility of those who live in poverty in the Denver area and who participate in this valuable extension of the School Lunch Program.
Our first site visit is to a trailer park in Arvada. This trailer park, I am assuming, was built
in the 1970’s before the growth boom that Denver and it’s surrounding environs
experienced in the 80’s and 90’s. To the west and south are large windowless commercial buildings and the trailer park stands as an island of poverty in the midst of an industrial development. To the north of the trailer park is a fertilizer company whose chemicals are
seeping into the ground water. The women living in the park are concerned over the quality of their drinking water and therefore travel to local schools to fill plastic milk cartons so that they can provide clean water for their children. The trailers themselves range from those that are well tended to those that have seen better days.
I first meet Ramona and speak to her in my halting Spanish. She tells me that she had
recently lost her job and her husband is a delivery driver for Udi’s, getting up early every morning to deliver the freshly baked breads. They are having a difficult time making ends
meet and so the summer lunch program provides her three children with a diverse meal daily throughout the summer months. Ramona and her children also love the activities that are part of the program. This day, there are young girls coloring with the kids; a volunteer tying balloons into animals; and buckets to be drummed on. As I talk to Ramona, more mothers and children come up for their sack lunches and sandwiches.
Later I speak to Sandra whose English is better than my Spanish. She and her family, plus her sister and her children, all live in a trailer built for a family of 4. Sandra has lost her job and her husband works periodically in construction. What she tells me is that the summer lunch program helps them balance out their budget and their meals. What is most poignant is that she tells me that she had gone to a food bank that gives out fruit and
vegetables to supplement the participant’s groceries. When I ask where she shops for food, she tells me Wal-Mart but that fresh fruit and vegetables are too expensive to buy
for her family. So the few she received at the food bank were a treat for her children. I am struck by how those with so very little income have little access to nutritional foods. The cost of eating healthily is beyond their budget.
Our second site visit is in a beautiful small park in Castle Rock. The cultural demographic is different and in many ways more touching. Where in Arvada, most of the children arrived at the lunch program with their mothers, here there are only two mothers who show up with their children. I find out later that the families are mostly working class with both parents at work during the day and, therefore, the kids come on their own.
Susan, who runs the fledgling program (this is the first summer), tells me that it is a complex situation. Douglas County is the 7th wealthiest county in the country and so the focus of those volunteering is how to bring visibility to a program that serves an underserved, and mostly unseen, population. It is a transient demographic, predominantly white who fall below the poverty level.
I speak to Sue Ann, one of the two mothers. She tells me that she does not work and her
husband works in construction. There was a time when he was working full time earning good money but of late, he has been having a difficult time finding work. He has been working between 3 to 6 months earning $11 to $13/hour but then finds he must go on unemployment. She has been supplementing the meals that she feeds her children with
this lunch program and tells me “her family wouldn’t be able to make it without the help”.
I observe that the kids love the activities that are also part of the Castle Rock program. Two women come and talk, with simplicity, about conservation and what each child
can do to preserve the earth. Afterwards, the entire group collects garbage from the grounds of this park. It is a wonderful community activity.
I loved visiting these women and their children and it brought home to me how I think about food and the access to it. It is hard for me to understand that in this wealthy nation there are those who go hungry, having little to no access to food for their children. The summer lunch program bridges a gap here in Colorado but has a way to go before all children in need are participating in it.