Eight long, white folding tables lined up end to end fill the space beneath Colorado Community Church’s entryway awning. Atop, behind, and surrounding them are boxes and bags overflowing with apples, oranges, asparagus, carrots, honeydew, cabbage, garlic, milk, eggs, frozen fish, bread, pasta, and more — a pop-up grocery store taking over the sidewalk.
The scene isn’t one of chaos, though; two dozen volunteers are diligently organizing the items into tidy piles, then swiftly loading them into boxes to eventually be loaded into the cars of their neighbors. The person behind the twice-monthly food distribution is Lana Lopes, an energetic, always-smiling, bubbly member of Colorado Community Church who’s been voluntarily organizing the mobile pantry there in coordination with Food Bank of the Rockies for more than 10 years.
“Knowing the need is out there and knowing that I can help in some way: that’s why I do this,” said Lana. “I love helping people. I think that’s the main thing is I just love helping people. So this is one way to be able to do that.”
Prior to organizing the mobile pantry at Colorado Community Church, Lana volunteered for 15 years at the now-closed Loving Hands Food Pantry. At the time her children were still in school, and she was looking for a way to serve others that didn’t take her away from her family.
“I always wanted to do mission work, but I couldn’t because I had six kids. It’s like, you know, I couldn’t just leave them to go help other people,” she said. “So I started working at Loving Hands. I would go early, like six o’clock in the morning, on Thursdays. After the shift, I would get food to help our family as well.”
The extra food was a huge help.
“For us, if we were able to get food [from the pantry] it meant we could put what we were going to use for that into things like school clothes and supplies or sports,” said Lana. “Food pantries like Loving Hands and what we’re doing with Food Bank of the Rockies here really help a wide spectrum of people. Everybody needs help sometimes. This pantry has been a huge help for all of us.”
Of the 20-plus volunteers who regularly help Lana with the twice-monthly mobile pantry, Lana estimates that 85% of them also need the food for themselves. Volunteers like Magdalena, who’s been helping at the pantry for eight years now.
“I always take a box for my family, and often one for my neighbors, too,” she said. “We are always able to use it and my neighbors are thankful for the extra help.”
On average, Colorado Community Church’s mobile pantry distributes food to over 120 families each distribution. They also serve as a Food Bank of the Rockies Food for Kids site, providing meals to 350 children twice monthly. In 2021, approximately 6,500 households and 24,000 individuals were served at the pantry, and more than 500,000 pounds of food — the equivalent of over 416,000 meals — was distributed.
This past May, Lana was acknowledged for her work with the Minoru Yasui Community Volunteer Award, a program of Spark the Change Colorado that “honors extraordinary volunteers.” Additionally, the city of Denver declared May 25 “Lana Lopes Day.” Lana donated the $2,000 she received as part of the award to Food Bank of the Rockies, an amount that will help provide enough food for 8,000 meals.
At 2 p.m. on this particular Wednesday, the sun was shining and a line of more than 30 cars had already formed for the scheduled 3 p.m. distribution. Instead of making the clients wait, Lana rounded up her volunteer group for a quick pep talk and prayer, and they started the pantry early. Each time a car pulled up for food, Lana greeted the driver and passengers warmly — often by name — and personally helped load boxes of food into their trunks and backseats.
“I don’t want anyone to feel ashamed or embarrassed when they come to our pantry,” Lana said. “We always try to make everyone feel happy, greeting them with a smile and getting to know them. Just a hug or a smile can be huge, you know? So I always try to do that; I always try to encourage people.”
As car after car drove to the front of the line to get food, Lana’s contagious smile caught on. By the time the car left, everyone inside of it had a matching grin to go along with the food they needed to help them get through whatever situation they were facing at the moment.
“We meet people at a certain chapter of their life,” Lana explained of her approach to how she interacts with everyone at the pantry, as well as in life. “I don’t know what chapters one through 30 or 40 or 50 look like for them, just like they don’t know what my past chapters look like. All I know is they are here and they need food, and I’m happy to be the one who can help them with that.”
Inspired by Lana? Sign up to volunteer with us today at foodbankrockies.org/get-involved/volunteer.