Two years ago when St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center and Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Boulder combined their food banks and opened the Harvest of Hope Pantry, the goal was to better serve the working poor and homeless.
Now the focus includes offering healthy options and recipes to clients beyond canned and packaged foods. The pantry acts as a true grocery store where clients are able to choose from beef, poultry and dairy products provided by Community Food Share. Additionally, volunteers with Boulder Food Rescue deliver fresh fruits, vegetables and breads donated by area grocers and restaurants because of minor bruising or nearing expiration dates.
They also keep their produce section stocked by Earth’s Table community gardens and find creative ways to deal with unexpected harvests. In 2013, when area farmers had an overflow of butternut squash after the floods, one pantry volunteer boxed up the squash with an onion, dry ingredients and a recipe for soup.
“We are trying hard in many ways to get away from the stigma that a community food bank is only for canned and non-perishable foods,” said Barbara O’Neil, executive director. “The clients who made the butternut squash soup were surprised how easy it was to follow the recipe.”
For homeless clients, volunteers will cut up the fruit for individual servings and offer pre-packaged salad ingredients when available, said volunteer Mary Lynne Hixson, a registered dietician and pantry board member.
“We like to remind them to pick fresh produce,” she said.
Volunteers get to know the clients well, O’Neil said. They often read food labels for such things as salt, gluten and dairy restrictions and one man was given more protein items because a volunteer noticed he was losing weight.
“One of the amazing things about this ministry is that the volunteers are very genuine and that allows the clients to feel very comfortable and share,” O’Neil said. “So often, these folks are working two to three jobs and still can’t pay the bills. They don’t qualify for other programs so we are filling in a much needed gap.”
The pantry is open for households with kitchens in the mornings and for the homeless in the afternoons. That allows households to stock up for a week, while individuals can come in daily for fresh sandwiches, yogurt and produce.
Since opening, the number of Boulder residents needing the service has skyrocketed to monthly visits of about 900 for households and 1,200 for the homeless, O’Brien said.
The pantry is funded primarily through donations and grants. Donations can be made online at www.hopepantry.org or mailed to 2960 Valmont Ave., Boulder, Colo., 80301.