Healthy Food for Denver Kids Commission Seeks Two New Members

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In Colorado, one in nine children faces hunger, and nearly half of households receiving SNAP benefits have children, according to Feeding America. In 2018, a group of passionate citizens decided to address this self-statistical head-on. Through grassroots campaigning and door-to-door canvassing, they got a measure in November 2018 ballot to establish a fund for healthy food access and food education for low-income, underserved Denver youth.

Ordinance 302 passed with 59 percent of the vote. It increased sales and use tax within the City and County of Denver by 0.08 percent for ten years and established the Healthy Food for Denver Kids (HFDK) Commission, which is responsible for distributing $12 to $16 million received annually to nonprofits, public schools and the city agencies. Its mission is to financially support any organization that serves its vision: to ensure that “all Denver kids have reliable access to nutritious and culturally diverse food and food education that helps them grow, learn, and thrive for life.”

The thirteen-person HFDK commission is made up of three members of the mayor’s cabinet, two members of Denver City Council, four residents, and four representatives of citywide organizations engaged in food-related activities. The last two categories are volunteer-citizens with experience or interest in having a vote in where Denver taxpayer money would be most effective in improving healthy food access for the city’s youth.

As of April 26, the application to fill two seats — one resident and one representative of city-wide organizations engaged in food-related activities — is open. Members will need to attend a monthly meeting as well as join at least one of the multiple working groups devoted to funding, evaluation, governance, etc. However, the core responsibility will be to review grant applications and recommend organizations for funding using a variety of data-driven criteria.

“We’re looking for the proposed programming [to be] community-informed. Is there evidence that the community wants, needs, has requested the type of programming the organization is proposing?” explains Lauren Howe, HFDK program administrator. Additional considerations include “How many young people do they propose to reach through this program? What is the actual program itself? Is it taking place in a school, in a non-profit setting, on a farm? Are you doing education with classes or are you distributing food boxes or like a school food pantry?” Howe added.

click to enlarge a child looks up smiling while holding a piece of lettuce

Slow Food Denver, which aims to promote a sustainable, local and ethical food culture, also receives HFDK funding.

Slow Food Denver

She also emphasized that the commission evaluates equality and equity considerations, looking at geographic reach, race and ethnicity or targeted groups, language and cultural inclusivity and more. To ensure fairness and objectivity, the commission works with a third-party firm to collect and analyze data, and spends a significant portion of effort training both new and existing members on evaluation methodology and technique.

Evaluation is taken seriously, as HFDK is in charge of some serious funding. The average annual grant is $250,000 to $300,000 and has been used to provide healthy meals and snacks, stock school food pantries, support mobile food markets and hire promoters (Latino community members who are trained to provide basic health education to their neighborhood without being medical professionals). workers).

According to its 2022 Impact Summary, HFDK has awarded $37 million to 92 organizations, resulting in 13.3 million meals provided to youth and their families and reaching an estimated 130,000 kids since 2020. Some of the organizations that have been supported include Frontline Farming, Boys and Girls Club, the GrowHaus and Slow Food Denver.

“We provided Denver Public Schools Career Connect, their college office success, to retrofit a classroom at the Bruce Randolph School and turn it into a hydroponic farm,” Howe says of one of her favorite accomplishments. The farm opened last April, and now DPS is in the process of launching its first urban agriculture career and technical education pathway for high school students.”

Howe added, “Since we started back in 2020, we have funded close to 250 youth jobs or internships or apprenticeships related to food system work that could be like paying teens to work in community gardens or urban farms.”

If selected, applicants will start in August and serve a three-year term helping HFDK with its mission. Applicants need to either work or live in the City of Denver, and it is preferred that they have knowledge in food systems, gardening, youth development and/or nonprofit grant processes.

“But also, I think that lived experience is really just as important in this process. So, for example, if someone has personally experienced hunger or food insecurity, is a person of color, maybe they’re an immigrant or refugee, we’re really looking for diverse community members that can bring different perspectives,” said Howe.

Additionally, Howe specifically called out two gaps the commission currently has in membership: ”We’re also really looking for the voice of younger folks, so people ages 18 to 25. We don’t currently have anyone in that younger age group represented…[and] currently we don’t have any members from City Council District 1 or 4,” she notes.

The application, which is available online, will be open through Wednesday, May 17.