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Gilpin residents can get free food for their school-aged kids this summer

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lunchbox_fooddisplayLunch Box program has no income requirements

by Patty Unruh

If you have a school-aged child and live in Gilpin County, you can get free food for your child through Gilpin County Department of Human Services’ Summer Food Lunch Box program. The program began on June 8 and will be offered every other Wednesday through August 3 at the Gilpin County Justice Center, located at 2960 Dory Hill Road, off of Highway 46 across from Base Camp Campground. The remaining distribution dates are July 6, July 20, and August 3 from 2:30 to 4:00 p.m. Fourteen days of lunches are available for free with each distribution.

The goal is that no child go hungry, so it’s for all Gilpin school kids, not just those on free and reduced meals. There are no income requirements, address checks, or ID needed; all you have to do is register the first time you come. You will be asked a few questions: your name, the name of the child or children for whom you are getting food, age of the child, and whether or not they are receiving free or reduced school lunches. The free or reduced question is for only for statistical purposes this year, so that next year Human Services may qualify to receive federal funding. Adults may pick up for children, and children may also come and pick up food for themselves.

After registering, you pick out whatever color shopping bag you want and get started filling it up, along with extra boxes as needed. (If you bring the bag back next time, your child gets a small prize.) The friendly staff from Human Services provides a menu of items to choose from, plus some good recipes. They will also help you get the correct amount and kind of items. You don’t have to take items you don’t want. Bags, boxes, and carts are provided so you can haul the food out to your car.

The project was originally the idea of Betty Donovan, the director of Human Services, and Gilpin County Commissioner Gail Watson back in January of this year. Since then, Human Services’ case manager supervisor Karen Erdman has worked to make the program a reality. Erdman and food bank coordinator Jenni Josselyn set up the “grocery store” on tables in the Justice Center’s jury room and assist the customers.

Erdman and Josselyn served 15 children the first week and 24 children the second week. They hope word gets around so they can feed even more kids.

Gilpin County School recently sent out an email telling families about the availability of the food. One child who came to the June 22 distribution to get food for himself said, “I got the email on my phone.” He filled his bag and came back 20 minutes later with a buddy whom he had told about the program. Word of mouth works!

Four community volunteers helped during the first week, in addition to Erdman and Josselyn.  One Lunch Box volunteer is Coby Boudreaux. He helped out at the first distribution and returned with his family to get some food during the second week. The Boudreaux family has only lived in Gilpin for a few months, but Boudreaux has become a regular volunteer at the food bank. The staff is appreciative. “We’re so glad to have people move here who get involved and help out the community!” Josselyn noted.

More volunteers are welcome and actually are desperately needed. It’s quite a job to move all the food from the Human Services’ office down to the jury room, set it up, help customers, and then haul the leftovers back to the office again. So if you are looking for ways to get involved in Gilpin County, please come and help serve! The Human Services staff will also gratefully receive your donations of food and money. The most helpful items to donate are packages of sliced cheese, sandwich meat, hot dogs, and bread.

Josselyn said Human Services researched offering the program through the federal government, but found that it was not feasible, since federal requirements would have included Human Services preparing and serving the food on-site and perhaps also providing transportation for children.

Human Services gets its food from a variety of sources. Staff members purchase food at a discount from Food Bank of the Rockies as part of their regular food bank and also receive donated food and donated money with which to buy food. Human Services partners with the Gilpin County Jail to receive food from Sysco Corporation, too.

Erdman mentioned that they hope to work with the newly opened EAGLESmart convenience store in Black Hawk, which has already provided gallons of milk for the Lunch Box distribution. The store is a project of the Gilpin County Education Foundation, with the goal of providing real vocational experience to students. Store manager Mike Patterson and Education Foundation president Craig Holmes are seeing what they can do to furnish fresh produce, lunch meat, and bread at lower prices.

Of course, you want to know what’s available. There are actually all kinds of items, from staples to healthy organics to condiments to “fun” food. The items differ, depending on what Human Services gets delivered or donated to it, but here are some examples of what may be available:

You can start off with milk – shelf-stable vanilla soy milk, almond milk, or a gallon of regular milk. Then there are traditional lunch favorites like mac and cheese, canned ravioli, chicken noodle or vegetable soups, peanut butter and jelly, and white or wheat bread. You can try some interesting new stuff, like Maranatha brand dark chocolate almond spread or sunflower spread, hummus, pepper jack cheese, Hebrew National beef franks, Laura’s Lean deli meat, and Pillsbury crescent rolls. The fresh produce includes a variety of fruits and vegetables and dressing packets for your salads. Sample some snacks, like gluten- and dairy-free whoopie pie cookies, sea salt popcorn, mini pretzels, spray cheese, and all types of chips.

Talking about the healthy options, Erdman said, “Childhood obesity is on the rise, especially among lower income families, because processed food is cheaper. We are glad to be able to offer the produce and organic items.”

At the distributions, you hear bright and polite kids’ comments like, “It’s so hard to decide!” or “Blackberries are my favorite fruit!” and the popular, “Thank you for the food!”

Parents say, “We are on food stamps and are so grateful for this food.” “I like that they have organic options.” “This gives us a chance to try food we wouldn’t ordinarily buy.” “We’re new to this area and need a little help until we get a job.”

Gilpin families can thank Director Donovan and Commissioner Watson for coming up with this idea in the first place. Human Services staff are also to be commended.

“This project would not have happened without Karen Erdman taking the helm,” Josselyn asserted.

Erdman in turn gave credit to her co-worker. “I’m a brain-stormer, but Jenni is a doer.” She added that she hopes to offer the food distribution once a week next summer rather than just every other week, which she feels would be more helpful to families.

Erdman and Josselyn hope to make this a real community project. With transportation an issue for some of us, they’d like several community groups to get involved so food could be distributed at various locations. If your group can serve as a distribution point, please call the Human Services office at 303-582-5444.

Let’s all work to make sure no child in Gilpin goes hungry.

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