Supporting Partnership

by Astrid "Oz" Spies

In mid-2008, The Denver Foundation started to receive calls from food pantries, reporting that demand was up 20, 30, even 40 percent.

Donations? Those were flat or down. At the same time, Colorado ranked low in comparison to other states when it came to distributing food stamps to eligible families. Frontline organizations serving the hungry were overwhelmed and struggling. This was a pressing community need that didn't seem to be getting much attention in the Denver metro area and we felt called to act, reaching out to our donor partners and working to raise awareness in the broader community.

We were then overwhelmed by the incredible generosity of our donor partners as donations poured in from individuals, corporations, and even other foundations. Many chose to give through The Denver Foundation, and others directed grants to the emergency service provider of their choice. To date, we've been able to provide more than $1 million in grants to frontline organizations serving the hungry, over and above our regular grantmaking.

But our commitment doesn't stop there. We knew that simply helping food pantries build their supply wouldn't be enough. That's a short-term solution. Working closely with local food banks and leading hunger advocacy organizations, we discussed ways to help food pantries do their work better, more collaboratively, and more efficiently.

By helping food pantries deepen their partnerships, we thought we just might be able to create stronger emergency food delivery in specific communities. With help from two generous donor partners, we were able to invest in three collaborative groups of food pantries and support 18 month-long projects. Each member of each collaborative had one thing in common: a focus on the needs of their community-just like community foundations.

In one collaborative, four organizations have created a shared warehouse space that allows them to accept more donations than ever before; they also hope to align their operating hours so that there will be a food pantry open every day of the week in southwest Denver. In another partnership of five pantries, one organization conducts intake for all of the pantries using a shared form.

One church pantry recognized that their town needed a larger pantry they weren't able to provide, so they closed theirs, turned its space to storage, and directed their resources and volunteers to support the expanded pantry on-site at one of the partner agencies. They're just six months into an 18-month-long process, and we are all committed to working and learning together and sharing what we learn with fellow food pantries.

All of this work has been accomplished through partnership with people in our community who share our belief that no one should go hungry. We did what community foundations do best: identified a key community need, raised awareness, and worked with our nonprofit and donor partners to address that need. For more information about The Denver Foundation's work to end hunger in our community, visit our website.

Astrid "Oz" Spies is a program officer for The Denver Foundation, a member of the Council on Foundations. 

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