Culturally Responsive Food Initiative

Culturally Responsive Food Initiative

The Culturally Responsive Food Initiative (CRFI) aims to overcome barriers to food access experienced by Food Bank clients from different cultural backgrounds. Those barriers include, but are not limited to:

  • 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 most prevalent cultures in our service areas and shifted our sourcing to include those foods.

In fiscal year 2023, Food Bank of the Rockies had 20 Hunger Relief Partners participate in the Building Belonging Program, which provided participants with food and resource credits to purchase culturally responsive items and other necessities to best support their clients. The Food Bank aims to continue expanding community food preference reports for mobile pantry sites and the Building Belonging Program to facilitate more community input and allow for culturally preferred tailoring of food distributions.

12 customized food lists based on culture
9 million+ pounds of culturally responsive food distributed
Responded to the influx of newly arrived neighbors with emergency food boxes
20 Hunger Relief Partners participated in the Building Belonging Program
Holiday food lists developed for various cultural celebrations
11% of total food distributed was culturally responsive
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Culturally Responsive Food Initiative by the Numbers for Fiscal Year 2023

Fato is originally from Kenya but has lived in Denver for 20 years. “This helps a lot,” she shared about the culturally responsive food distribution she attends weekly. “Especially if you have kids — they always want to eat! People tell other people about it. We help each other.” 

– Fato, Denver client

Masa flour is one of the culturally responsive foods sourced during the winter months to support neighbors who celebrate Navidad. “Having the ingredients to make tamales will help a lot, especially right now with the prices so high,” said one client. “There are six of us in our family and it gets expensive.”

– Culturally Responsive Mobile Pantry in Denver


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 hundreds of food pantry users, Hunger Relief Partners, and cultural community organizations through interviews and surveys, and provided translated material so we could reach historically underrepresented communities.

In addition to continuously developing new food lists 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.

After surveying many partners and food pantry users, 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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