Waste Not, Want Not: Eliminating Hunger in Colorado

Metro Caring works to eliminate hunger in Colorado

Courtesy Metro Caring

Courtesy Metro Caring

Are you hungry for a challenge, Denver? One that will help fill empty tummies and reduce the amount of perfectly good food that ends up in a landfill? Then take the Waste Less Pledge.

Directed by Metro Caring, this ongoing challenge aims to use education, advocacy and grocery rescue partnerships to get an initial 10 percent of the Denver population to think twice about the way it shops and consumes.

“There is no excuse for so many in our community to experience hunger when up to 40 percent of all food produced in the U.S. ends up in a landfill,” says Metro Caring’s president and CEO Lynne Butler. “Before people can achieve adequate health, before they can excel in school and in the workplace, they must have access to nutritious food. We know this because we see the face of hunger every day.”

Founded 42 years ago by the area’s faith communities, Metro Caring is Colorado’s leading nonprofit hunger-prevention and waste mitigation organization. Fresh produce, canned goods, bread, dairy products and meat are purchased with cash gifts from individuals, foundations and corporations, or donated by outlets that include supermarkets, caterers, food vendors at Denver International Airport, home gardeners with surplus crops and private-party or corporate food drives such as Amp the Cause’s Tackle Hunger/Football for a Cause.

The goods are available free of charge at the Metro Caring Fresh Foods Market, 1100 E. 18th Ave., where anyone who is hungry can shop for a week’s worth of groceries at a time. In 2015, 45,444 individuals took advantage of this by-appointment, no-questions-asked service.

“All a person has to do is express a need,” Butler says, adding that people from 110 different ZIP codes found their way to the market last year. “We don’t tell them what to pick out—they shop with a cart just like in a ‘regular’ store, although we do have volunteer ‘guides’ who can offer advice on nutrition and preparation.”

In keeping with the agency’s waste not, want not philosophy, donations not fit for consumption are re-purposed, rather than being tossed out. Last year alone, Metro Caring composted two tons of organic materials per week, sent an additional 1,000 pounds of pig-friendly food per week to an area rancher and re-distributed an average of 23,500 pounds of food to other nonprofit organizations each month.

“If it were not for Metro Caring, 94 percent of our participants would find it very tough to feed themselves and/or their families,” Butler says, adding that the average shopper there fills a cart with 83 pounds of food per week.

Ninety percent of the shoppers report having added new or different foods to their diets, while 97 percent report improved household health as a result of their improved diets, 95 percent are eating more fruits and vegetables and 92 percent are eating fewer fatty foods.

“Nutritious food is the best medicine,” Butler says. But beyond the immediate need for food, she adds, “there lies a greater need to combat a root cause of hunger: poverty.”

Toward that end, Metro Caring offers services such as personal financial coaching, assistance in paying utility bills and help in obtaining identification documents needed to secure housing, health care and employment. Additionally, in 2015, the group screened 114 individuals for heart disease and enabled 64 people to get help in quitting smoking and/or alcohol consumption.

Seeds for Success, Metro Caring’s food industry job-training program, has placed 83 percent of its graduates, and the Food4All KidsKamp teaches children about hunger prevention and philanthropy. Metro Caring also has its own greenhouse, thanks to funding from Nexus Corp., and sells micro greens, watercress and herbs to such popular Denver restaurants as Humboldt Farm Fish Wine, Rialto Cafe and Blue Island Oyster Bar.

Those involved with Metro Caring won’t rest, Butler says, “until we have a Denver that is free of hunger and rich in food access. This doesn’t mean we are going to have a store with fresh foods on every corner, but because there are still 45 food deserts in the seven counties that make up the metro area we are going to continue working hard to insure there are easily accessible, healthy options.”

Cornucopia 2016, Metro Caring’s signature fundraiser
When: September 28; VIP reception, 5 p.m.; general admission, 6 p.m.
Where: Space Gallery, 400 Santa Fe Drive Keynote speaker: Dana Gunders, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council and author of “Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook”
Host committee: Paul Heitzenrater, Denise Bellucci, Pam Savage Sims, Louise Richardson and Ben Irwin
Tickets: $75 general; $125 VIP. Purchase at metrocaring.org/cornucopia2016

1100 E. 18th Ave. / 303.860.7200
SERVICE HOURS: Monday-Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Tuesdays from 6-8 p.m.
TO VOLUNTEER OR DONATE: metrocaring.org

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