Hunger where we live — the philanthropic response

For more than 30 years, I’ve lived in the same neighborhood in Denver. It’s nice – with neat lawns, friendly people and a great sense of community.

Just a few blocks from my home, there’s a public elementary school. Recently, I received a flier that asked for food donations to help fill the Friday-afternoon backpacks of dozens of students so they would have some food over the weekend. The school is trying to prevent the Monday-morning arrival of students who are unable to learn because they are hungry and nutrition-deprived.

When I called the school, I was told that their food-backpack program is just one of many throughout the state. Further research led to these startling facts:

  • Nearly one in six Coloradans experienced hunger at some point in 2012 – more than 840,000 people.
  • More than one in five Colorado households with children (22 percent) reported food hardship – defined as a financial challenge to put food on the table – between 2008 and 2012.
  • Colorado’s rate of child poverty is the third-fastest-growing in the nation. More Denver kids lived in poverty in 2012 than during the worst years of the Great Recession.
  • Nearly one in seven Colorado seniors was unsure of where their next meal would come from at some point in 2010.
  • Across the United States, the numbers are similar. One in six Americans – more than 48.9 million people – are food-insecure. This means that they do not always know when or where they will get their next meal.
  • More than one in five U.S. children – 15.8 million – are at risk of hunger.

Change local public policy: Philanthropy by concerned individuals or businesses can address the root causes of hunger or treat the symptoms. Both approaches are needed desperately.

As a start, they can support nonprofits that promote the policy changes that address issues of poverty and hunger. In May, for example, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the Charitable Crop Donation Act, which created a 25 percent tax credit for local food producers who donate excess foods to Colorado food banks and pantries.

This summer, the Denver City Council will consider changing zoning laws to allow residents to sell homegrown produce and other homemade food items out of their homes. These policy changes are designed to bring more fresh, local food into the reach of hungry neighbors.

Organizations working at the policy level include Hunger Free ColoradoLiveWell Colorado and Slow Food Denver.

Support local farms: The local farm movement is growing rapidly to provide fresh, healthy produce with urban greenhouses like The GrowHaus as well as urban farms like Sprout City FarmsEkar FarmDenver Urban Gardens and Revision International. These nonprofit operations need help to make ends meet. Gardeners can join Produce for Pantries and donate excess crops to local food pantries.

Supply local food pantries: At thousands of food pantries across Colorado and the United States, demand for food routinely exceeds supply. Donations of food and money are always needed. Philanthropists can check out Food Bank of the RockiesMetro CareRingthe Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Food Pantry,  La Puente Home in Alamosa and Community Food Bank in Grand Junction, among many others.

Volunteer your time: Each of the above organizations (and many more) needs volunteers to help carry out its mission. It takes many hands to sort, prepare and distribute food to the hungry. Volunteering time as an individual, a family or a business is one of the very best gifts you can make. Find opportunities by visiting Metro Volunteers.

If you know of someone who is struggling with hunger, make a referral to the toll-free, confidential Colorado Hunger Free Hotline at 855-855-4626.

Most readers of this column never worry about where their next meal is coming from. Like me, most do not realize that so many children are showing up for school hungry – lacking the basic nutrition needed to succeed in the classroom, and that so many seniors and low-income individuals are hungry as well. Don’t wait to get a flier on your front porch. Act now.


Nonprofit of the month: Hunger Free Colorado

Hunger Free Colorado leads efforts to connect families and individuals to food resources and to create positive changes. The organization facilitates a photo-voice project called Hunger Through My Lens, in which more than a dozen Colorado women are taking aim at hunger with cameras to associate real faces and stories with the issue. Watch their stories online.

Bruce DeBoskey, J.D., is a Colorado-based philanthropic strategist working with The DeBoskey Group to help businesses, foundations and families design and implement thoughtful philanthropic strategies and actionable plans.