Culturally Responsive Food Initiative

Culturally Responsive Food Initiative

In August 2020, Food Bank of the Rockies launched the pilot phase of the Culturally Responsive Food Initiative (CRFI), which aims to overcome barriers of access experienced by Food Bank clients from different cultural backgrounds. Those barriers include:

  • Diverse food preferences

  • Experiencing language barriers or uncertainty about eligibility

  • Not feeling comfortable when visiting food pantries that do not understand their culture

In CRFI’s pilot phase, which concluded in May 2021 and involved eight counties, demographic information and feedback on food preferences was collected from more than 700 clients, 111 partners, and 12 cultural community organizations. Using that data, Food Bank of the Rockies developed food lists based on the preferences of the seven most prevalent cultures in our service areas (Eastern Shoshone, Ethiopian, Hispanic, Northern Arapaho, Russian, Somali, Vietnamese) and shifted our sourcing to include those foods. Food Bank of the Rockies also launched 10 culturally specific mobile pantries, increased the average availability of the top 15 culturally responsive foods by 80%, and offered direct food credits to 80 partners to order culturally responsive foods at no cost.

Currently, CRFI is in Phase 2, which involves expanding the program to all 53 counties in Food Bank of the Rockies’ service network. Phase 2 will also involve:

  • Distributing more than 1 million pounds of culturally responsive foods by June 2022
  • Continuing to support new and existing culturally responsive mobile pantries
  • Expanding the recommended cultural food lists
  • Launching an Inclusive Capacity Building opportunity to provide best practices training and funding opportunities to Hunger Relief Partners, including food credits and language services
  • Staffing additional full- and part-time positions dedicated to CRFI

Implementing a comprehensive program that addresses the food preferences and needs of our wonderfully varied communities requires the continued support of our partners, donors, volunteers, and community. We are so thankful for the opportunity given to us through this support to provide every client with foods that are familiar, nutritious, and comforting.

700+ clients surveyed or interviewed
8 counties served during the pilot phase
53 counties served in Phase 2
10 culturally specific mobile pantries
80% increase in availability of 15 most popular food items
7 customized food lists based on culture
80 partners received CRFI food credits in pilot phase
$1 million = cost of Phase 2 programming

Culturally Responsive Food Initiative by the Numbers

“Their faces literally light up and we know we’re doing the right thing when that happens. Even if you only do it for one person, it’s well worth it when you see their smile and their eyes light up because you have something they recognize.” 

– Diana Cable, Colorado Health Network Denver

“I think that there’s a sense of respect there that we’re making an effort to communicate to our families in their own language.”

– Carolina Ramirez, Children’s Hospital Colorado


Through a generous $643,000 grand from Feeding America, and a $100,000 grant from Albertsons.

  • Purchasing culturally relevant produce and providing it to partners at no cost
  • An Inclusive Capacity Building program that offers language grants, food credits, and best practices training to partners
  • 3 full-time CRFI staff members
  • 1 part-time CRFI staff member
  • Translation services
  • Outreach
  • Supplies
  • Transportation expenses

The full list of culturally responsive foods can be found here. The list includes foods that are popular across cultures like tomatoes, onions, and carrots, as well as culture-specific items like teff flour and masa flour.

We collected feedback from 700+ food pantry users, 111 partners, and 12 cultural community organizations. We collected feedback through interviews and surveys, and provided translated material so we could reach historically underrepresented communities.

We piloted CRFI in eight counties: Denver, Morgan, Pitkin, Garfield, Eagle, Hot Springs, Fremont, and Sweetwater. After surveying partners in these counties, we determined that these seven cultures—Eastern Shoshone, Ethiopian, Hispanic, Northern Arapaho, Russian, Somali, Vietnamese—were most common across our partners in these counties. We recognize that this list is not comprehensive and some cultures may not be represented.

  • Focus on fresh produce. This is the most requested food category.
  • Avoid canned foods. Many immigrant families may not have had canned foods in their home country and therefore consider them unhealthy.
  • Avoid pre-seasoned or pre-packaged meats or pastas. This allows more flexibility to customize the flavor of the meals to fit with cultural preferences.
  • Provide whole foods. By offering whole ingredients, it provides more flexibility on how that item can be used or seasoned.
  • Holidays may change food preferences. To be culturally responsive, it is important to understand the calendar for cultural holidays. A seasonal or religious holiday may change what foods are used and the quantity needed. A Western example would be serving turkey for Thanksgiving. Please see our Holiday Calendar for more information.


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