It’s a hot Friday morning in July and The Action Center is buzzing with volunteers sorting food and packing boxes, semi-trucks dropping off donations, and clients pulling their cars into the distribution area to get whatever nourishing food is available that day.
“Sometimes the line of cars goes all the way past the 7-Eleven,” said Product Operations Manager Jenn Stone, referring to the convenience store located almost a half-mile down the street from The Action Center’s Lakewood location. “We serve an average of 275 households a day,” a 267% increase over pre-COVID-19 averages. “In June, we served 4,200 households — 1,000 more than each of the last eight months.”
The Action Center was founded in 1968 to help community members experiencing hardship with such services as free clothing; rent, mortgage, and utilities assistance; job resources; and more. As a Food Bank of the Rockies Hunger Relief Partner, The Action Center also assists people through a four-times-a-week food distribution. Some of that food, including much of the fresh produce, comes from Food Bank of the Rockies’ Grocery Rescue Program.
“It works out great for the community we’re serving, helping provide them with more fresh produce, as well as for us financially, because it helps alleviate our budget,” said Stone. “If we don’t have to buy it, then we can shift that funding to source other items.”
In fiscal year 2022 (July 1, 2021–June 30, 2022), Food Bank of the Rockies obtained and distributed over 38.5 million pounds of quality food items — 49% of the total pounds of food distributed — through the Grocery Rescue Program, ranking third among Feeding America food banks in terms of pounds of food rescued. These were items from major retailers with damaged packaging or other defects not affecting the products’ integrity — a bruise, perhaps, or a missing yogurt in a six-pack — that were then delivered to partners like The Action Center to distribute to our neighbors facing hunger.
“We like to provide fruits and vegetables as much as we can, and grocery rescue through the Food Bank allows us to do that, which is great,” said Stone.
The program also benefits the more than 750 businesses that donate product to the Grocery Rescue Program. Jayne Bethoney oversees this side of the operation at the Trader Joe’s in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.
“We train our crew to look out for anything that’s not fit for sale but is 100% fit for consumption,” said Bethoney while walking through the store. “Especially with produce, which I know is one of the larger needs. That’s one of the things we try to stay really diligent about.”
In 2021, this particular Trader Joe’s donated over 249,000 pounds of Grocery Rescue product to Food Bank of the Rockies — the equivalent of more than 200,000 meals. A plaque behind the store’s customer service desk recognizes this achievement and is a subtle nod to the company’s dedication to keeping as much food as possible out of the landfill.
“Food insecurity is a very real thing for people that you would never think would be affected by it,” said Bethoney. “Food is such a basic need for all of us, but it’s not as accessible to some as to others. We try to reach our neighborhoods and serve our community however we can. The fact that we can help a little bit, to me, is important; we have to do everything we can as humans to give back.”
It is through partnerships like these that together we can truly meet the needs of the hundreds of thousands of people in our service area experiencing hunger — and get one step closer to ending food insecurity for good.