Volunteers and staff for the Arapahoe County-based nonprofit Integrated Family Community Services, or IFCS, said the need for food has never been higher as they distributed hundreds of boxes of meal items to metro residents days before Thanksgiving.
"Today was by far the largest and busiest we've seen since we started this at the beginning of the pandemic," said Director of Development Todd McPherson.
With a line of hundreds of cars winding through the parking lots of Arapahoe Community College, dozens of volunteers for the nonprofit worked to get families and individuals thousands of pounds worth of food during a distribution event Nov. 19.
Though the distribution did not begin until noon, McPherson said cars began to line the street around 8 a.m. Just after 12 p.m., McPherson said he and staff had to figure out "where to cut off the line" even as "people were still willing to wait in the chance that they may get something."
Littleton resident Sue Greeley, who has been volunteering with IFCS since December of last year, said "the need is going up" and added "we've had a lot more people coming in" to the nonprofit for food in recent months.
Greeley said she began working with the nonprofit after hearing a staff member speak last October during an event in Littleton that engaged community members about the ongoing struggles of the homeless community. Wanting to be a part of the solution, Greeley said she's been volunteering weekly for IFCS ever since.
"I learned a lot," Greeley said of the event. "I'm really frustrated with the income disparity in this country, and I want to do every little bit that I can ... to make sure that those that don't have anything are getting a little something."
The nonprofit, which is located near Englewood just off Hampden Avenue, has been inundated with higher demand since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with providing resources for programs such as rent assistance, IFCS has been delivering hundreds of thousands of pounds of food in recent months, mostly through distribution events held several times each week at its main location.
"With inflation, we're seeing bigger demand than we've ever seen before," said Tara Magaña, volunteer coordinator for IFCS. "Pre-COVID, we were serving 500 people per month. March 2020: 1,000. We're currently doing 6,000 people a month in our market."
As demand increases, Magaña said issues like supply chain stressors and a drop in pandemic-era funding have led the nonprofit to "do what we can with the funding that we have" but may have to limit its food distribution in the future.
Magaña said the mission behind the November food drive was to provide meals to residents in need as the holiday season draws nearer. But that doesn't mean the food is just related to Thanksgiving.
"We want to be culturally aware, so instead of giving out your typical items like stuffing and cranberries and candies yams, we're giving out fresh produce items that could be pretty universal," Magaña said.
A typical box could include potatoes, squash, corn, celery and masa — a maize dough made from ground corn. It also includes staple items commonly found on store shelves such as white bread and canned beans.
"We're really trying to help families who may need a little bit of extra support this holiday season, whether they're celebrating Thanksgiving or just wanting to make a seasonal meal," Magaña said.
For volunteers, their work gave them a sense of closeness to their community at a time when many are reflecting on what they are most grateful for.
"It's nice to give back and it just reminds me of how fortunate I am as well," said Kevin Greeley. "I know how tough times can be for folks right now ... it helps me be thankful for everything that I have."
Littleton resident and regular IFCS volunteer Brooke Cowan said "giving back to her community" is what drives her to be involved with the nonprofit. "I've never been hungry, I've been very fortunate and it's important to me that I give back to my community."
IFCS accepts donations which can be made at tinyurl.com/ifcsdonate or by texting BetterTogether to 801801. The nonprofit also accepts donations for non-food items, which can be critical for those needing toiletries and other supplies not covered under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formally known as food stamps.
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