Culturally Responsive Food Initiative

Culturally Responsive Food Initiative

The Culturally Responsive Food Initiative (CRFI) 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 (August 2020 – May 2021), 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 and shifted our sourcing to include those foods.

Food Bank of the Rockies also launched culturally specific mobile pantries and began offering direct food credits to select partners to order culturally responsive foods at no cost. In fiscal year 2022, we operated 30 Mobile Pantries in Colorado that were designated as culturally responsive and three Mobile Pantries in Wyoming designated as such.

12 customized food lists based on culture
7 million+ pounds of culturally responsive food distributed
30 Culturally Responsive Mobile Pantries in Colorado
3 Culturally Responsive Mobile Pantries in Wyoming
Responded to Afghan refugee resettlement with 3,521 culturally responsive boxes
40 Culturally Responsive-certified partners received food credits
Holiday food lists developed for various cultural celebrations
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Culturally Responsive Food Initiative by the Numbers for Fiscal Year 2022

“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


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.

In addition to the original 7 food lists developed for the largest cultural groups represented in our service area, Food Bank of the Rockies has also developed holiday-specific food lists and insights for partners to refer to when sourcing food for their clients throughout the year. In fiscal year 2022, we also added 25 new food items to our inventory based on neighbor preferences.

After surveying many partners, we determined that these cultures 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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