Vision and a Volvo Filled with Bread Launched the Way for Colorado’s Largest Human Services Nonprofit

Janie Gianotsos Faces of Food Bank, Faces of Hunger, Newsy

It’s astounding how a big vision and taking the first small steps to make it happen can lead to exactly what you imagine.

When we began researching the food bank’s history to commemorate our 40th anniversary, we found a photocopy of a letter Governor Dick Lamm sent to Kathy Hackwith Groth, lauding her efforts to start the Colorado Food Clearing House. We wanted to locate Kathy and were so excited to discover she’s still right here in Metro Denver, volunteering at one of our partner agency pantries and was willing to come by and share her memories about how Food Bank of the Rockies got started.

Kathy was a volunteer and food bank coordinator at Central Presbyterian Church in the early 1970s. After learning how much bread was wasted, she convinced grocery stores to give her day old bread. There was so much of it, she began delivering bread to other food pantries all over town. Kathy packed the bread in her Volvo station wagon and the seed for food banking in Colorado was planted.

“I learned that grocers could sell more bread if the racks were full, so they always had excess bread to throw away. They paid someone to slit the bag and pour bleach onto the bread,” Kathy shared. She partnered with Senator Don McManus to pass Colorado’s Good Samaritan Law. Knowing they could donate food without the risk of being sued, retail and wholesale food distributers were encouraged to give more donations. This law was a game changer for hunger relief in Colorado, and is still a critical reason why the food bank and our partner agencies are able to safely rescue more than 18.5 million pounds of food from retail stores that used to be thrown away.

The idea for Colorado Food Clearing House began when a warehouse full of pasta was about to be discarded. Kathy scrambled to network her fellow hunger relief workers and ensure all the pasta was picked up, but she knew there was a better way to prevent wasted food and feed hungry people. Trucks and resources were needed.  Many others in the helping community worked with Kathy, brainstorming and networking. The result was a Federal grant application that although far from perfect, proved successful. With the grant money, the agency moved into a former Catholic school building at 34th and Pecos in Denver. Kathy and other nonprofits who occupied the building named it the Call to Action Building. A board of directors was recruited, and eventually an executive director was hired at a salary of $12,000 a year.

Kathy’s vision, back in the late 1970’s, was to eventually have a fleet of trucks, a large warehouse, and the resources to make sure food wasn’t wasted and hungry people were fed. And her vision became reality!

Taking time to care and do what feels right in your heart can make amazing things happen in the world. Thank you Kathy, for caring and doing something about food waste and hunger, and for continuing to care and feed the hungry today. You’re an inspiration for what is and for what is still to come.

We’re so proud of what’s been accomplished together to solve hunger and amazed at how far we’ve come in 40 years. Who could have imagined that a Volvo station wagon filled with donated bread would grow into Colorado’s largest human services nonprofit, providing more than 134,000 meals a day to people in need? Kathy imagined. And we’re so glad she did!