I toured two food pantries recently on a Thursday morning, and it was an eye-opening experience.
We first visited Community Ministry of Southwest Denver. There was a woman pushing a shopping cart picking out her food. In the cart was a small girl – it made me relate to my own situation as I have a daughter around the same age. The stark reality was that 100 families had been served in this pantry since Monday. The food pantry, though organized and efficient, is limited in what they can offer and watching this mother pick out her narrow allotment of food was difficult to observe. I couldn’t imagine being told what I could provide for my daughter – and this is even a food pantry that gives people selection options. Community Ministry was running low on key staples, such as canned food, and didn’t have the ability to replenish healthy foods. But they could get junk food and candy, which obviously isn’t a suitable solution as it impacts physical and dental health of children, such as the little girl that was there during my visit.
The second site was at CU Denver on the Auraria campus downtown. That’s right – a college campus. And guess what? They have college kids who are homeless and access their food pantry on a consistent basis. These kids have to choose between missing class and getting a bed for the night. What kind of choice is this? The selection of food was extremely limited at the CU Denver Food Pantry, and I had a hard time imagining going to college and being homeless at the same time.
Both pantry visits proved two things to me. First, though our state has made significant progress, we still have a lot of work to do. Secondly, the heroes on the ground at these food pantries simply deserve a great deal more support.
I have served for this organization on the principle that it’s simply unacceptable that members of our community are hungry. But I have discovered it’s much more than just hunger. It’s about doing the right thing as a community and a country. We shouldn’t be a society where kids are hungry and their parents are so severely limited in their options. We shouldn’t be a society where college kids who strive to be better have to sleep on the streets so they don’t miss class. We shouldn’t accept the reality that senior citizens who have worked their entire lives and have made their contribution to our society have to decide to feed their pets (their only companion) or themselves, or choose between needed medication and food. And we shouldn’t accept the reality of food pantries – those that do the real emergency food distribution and the real work with families struggling with hunger – are not being provided with the necessary support.
The reality of this community is that our work at Hunger Free Colorado is more vital and more necessary than ever before. And, if anyone doubts that, get in your car and go visit a food pantry in your area. And, as we have done since inception in 2009, Hunger Free Colorado can absolutely be a vital force in making lives better through innovative and impactful systems change. As I move from Board Chair to Director, I am absolutely committed to continuing to do what I can to step up for that little girl, homeless college kids, senior citizens, and those amazing heroes on the front line of this issue. And I believe that many share that same passion and want to contribute to making our community, state and nation better.
William Browning is the outgoing Board Chair for Hunger Free Colorado and will continue to serve on the board of directors to help further our efforts to ensure no Coloradan goes hungry.