The COVID-19 pandemic may be easing, but the hunger crisis it exacerbated in Colorado is far from over. Nearly two in five Centennial Staters (38 percent) don’t have reliable access to nutritious food, according to a December survey by Hunger Free Colorado. That’s up from 29 percent in September 2020 and 10.2 percent in 2019—a sign of the profound and worsening economic challenges many are facing a full year into the pandemic.
Hunger isn’t afflicting Coloradans evenly, though. The survey revealed that long-standing disparities in healthy food access have deepened significantly in the COVID era. Fifty-two percent of non-white and Latinx Coloradans struggle to put food on the table compared with 30 percent of white residents. And more than half of households with children struggle to regularly access nutritious food.
Amidst these sobering statistics is a glimmer of good news: Local nonprofits have stepped up to serve our neighborhoods in need, providing healthy meals at no cost and fostering connection. We spoke with two of them about their efforts.
Chris Kilcullen, co-founder and managing director of Kitchen One for One, says the goal of his Denver-based organization is to “build hope by spreading love with food.”
“We don’t want to just give somebody a plate of food,” Kilcullen explains. “We want to really build a relationship with them. And more importantly, we want them walking away knowing somebody does care enough about them to do this for them.” Kilcullen and Mark Sunderhuse started Kitchen One for One in December 2017 as a nonprofit food truck that delivered restaurant-quality grub to hungry Denverites, primarily those experiencing homelessness. When COVID-19 hit last March, demand for their services soared. In response, the duo ramped up production from 250 meals each week to 2,500 to 3,500 meals per week and expanded service to “all of our neighbors in need,” says Kilcullen.
This year, Kitchen One for One took it a step further with the launch of Taco Night, a monthly program that provides gratis and pay-what-you-can tacos to community members on the Front Range. Taco Night kicks off the first Tuesday of every month at Bergen Park Church in Evergreen (31919 Rocky Village Dr.), where tacos are handed out with a suggested donation of $10 per, to be plate paid through the Kitchen One for One website. That means that attendees who can’t pay simply walk through the line without anyone knowing. “There’s so much shame and guilt in asking for a free meal that we wanted to eliminate somebody even having to whisper,” says Kilcullen. The money generated from the Evergreen event is then used to fund a Taco Night at Rock House in Idaho Springs (542 Chicago Creek Road), a youth outreach center, on the first Thursday of each month. A third Taco Night occurs on the third Thursday of each month in front of the St. Francis Center (2323 Curtis Street), a day shelter for those experiencing homelessness in downtown Denver.
Deliciousness is a key component of each event. “We want to serve food that builds and creates dignity with every bite,” says Kilcullen, who previously owned several restaurants in the Dallas area. “I’m not a chef, but I love great food. I want to serve only food that I’d want to eat.”
That means Taco Night attendees are treated to braised and slow-roasted pork carnitas; fire-roasted green chile chicken; fire-roasted corn, black bean, and quinoa salad; queso mac and cheese; mango pico de gallo; crumbled queso fresco; and salsa roja and salsa verde.
Looking ahead, Kilcullen hopes to expand Taco Night to four times a week and also create a franchise model that can be replicated across the country. In the meantime, he hopes all Coloradans can understand how easily food insecurity can strike. “It only takes the loss of a job for somebody in your neighborhood to go through food insecurity,” he says. “You never know what’s going on behind those closed doors.”
To learn more about Kitchen One for One, including the time/location of Taco Night events and how to volunteer, visit KitchenOneforOne.com.
For Frank Anello, tackling food insecurity isn’t just about getting meals into stomachs—it’s about providing nutritious and culturally relevant fare for local refugees, undocumented immigrants, and people seeking asylum. Through Project Worthmore, the Denver-based nonprofit that Anello and his wife Carolyn founded in 2009, these marginalized groups can gain access to fresh, healthy food that is recognizable to them. And that access has become increasingly important during the pandemic.
Undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers in particular have been impacted by the economic fallout of COVID-19. Because of their citizenship status, they haven’t been able to rely on federal stimulus money or unemployment checks, Anello explains. That’s where Project Worthmore’s Yu Meh Food Share program comes in. The program provides proteins, milk, and organic produce—some of it grown by refugee farmers on Project Worthmore’s five-acre DeLaney Community Farm in Aurora—to Denverites in need. From March 18 to the end of 2020, the program supplied 51,891 pounds of food to 638 local households, and served, on average, 25 single mothers per week, says Anello.
The DeLaney Community Farm, for its part, produced 32,105 pounds of food in 2020, serving 32 CSA members, including 12 single mothers who received fresh produce on their doorsteps every week from mid-June through the beginning of November, says Anello.
This year, thanks to a $40,000 grant from Simply Organic (the second such grant Project Worthmore has received from the herbs and spices purveyor), the work at DeLaney will resume in mid-March—about a month earlier than usual. That head start provides extra income for the five refugee farmers who work there full-time and also increases the amount of food that will be distributed to the Yu Meh program and CSA recipients, an important step in the continued fight against food insecurity.
Project Worthmore also offers health care, English language classes, and assistance navigating community services, with the primary goal of making refugees feel welcome in Colorado and eliminating as many barriers as possible to their success. Their presence here, says Anello, benefits us all.
“They bring beauty to our city,” he says. “They bring beauty to our state.”
To learn more about Project Worthmore, including how to get involved with DeLaney Community Farm and Yu Meh Food Share Program, visit ProjectWorthmore.org.