More than 500 calls a week have been coming in to Hunger Free Colorado’s confidential hotline during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Denver-based nonprofit has operated steadily over the past decade, connecting Coloradans to affordable and nutritious food. But Coloradans now are experiencing hunger at unprecedented levels, according to Ellie Agar, Hunger Free Colorado’s communications director.
One in 3 Coloradans are experiencing food insecurity during the pandemic, she says, compared to 1 in 11 Coloradans before March. And phone calls to Hunger Free Colorado’s hotline have more than tripled as a result.
“Families are being hit disproportionately,” Agar explained. “The biggest thing is that we saw a huge jump (during the pandemic) in hunger or food insecurity, so families being able to actually access the food they need.”
In addition to its hotline, Hunger Free Colorado advocates at the federal and state levels for relief for Coloradans facing food insecurity.
“I think capacity is always going to be somewhat of a limiting factor,” Agar said of food pantries and other available resources, “and that’s why we’ve pushed hard for a response from the federal level.”
She’s encouraged by food pantry assistance grants at the state level, which have allowed more pantries to connect with Colorado farmers, who also benefit from the food purchases. But Agar says that, overall, aid “really hasn’t been adequate at this point” from the federal government.
Across the state, Agar said, food pantries are seeing 6 to 10 times more visitors over the last eight months.
With federal help for local services still up in the air, Hunger Free Colorado has been able to use donations and grants to “scale up” their support for Coloradans and make significant strides toward greater food access, according to Agar.
This school year, the nonprofit recruited 20 more organizations to help enroll Colorado families in Pandemic-EBT benefits for children who would have received free or reduced-price meals but lost access during school closures.
In the span of a few weeks and just in time for the benefit cutoff, the organizations were able to translate outreach materials into eight different languages and sign up over 12,000 families to receive benefits, Agar said.
“A lot of our work is community driven,” she explained. “We want to make sure that the right people are at the table.”
Hunger Free Colorado
Address: 1355 S. Colorado Blvd., Denver, 80222
In operation since: 2009
Number of employees: 28
Annual budget: $4,000,000
Money spent directly on programming: $3,400,000
Number of clients served: 21,000 people through the hotline last year
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