Volunteering and giving back to the community are the bread and butter of Send HEPi's values. Recently, we took time to volunteer with Feeding Denver's Hungry, a local non-profit organization who's mission statement reads "Compassionately reaching out to nourish and meet the physical needs of the undeserved and overburdened." Jim Scharper, the founder of Feeding Denver's Hungry, has an inspiring story on his own - losing himself to alcoholism to avoid truths about his homosexuality and life, and consequently finding himself on the streets in true need.
During his recovery, Jim found Alcoholics Anonymous. As he finished up his 12-step process, he knew he had to give back to a community he took for granted for so many years. The first day of Jim's repayment came in October of 2013, the beginning of Feeding Denver's monthly meetings at Li'l Devil's Lounge, a very laid back and welcoming bar in the Baker neighborhood. This meeting at Li'l Devil's includes, as a group, making packed lunches to be provided to those in need.
Feeding Denver's Hungry doesn't just meet up to make the lunches, they hand them out as well! A large volunteer day would be the 4th Thursday Hand Up, in which the volunteer team meets at Stout and 21st in Downtown Denver and passes out free food to those in need, regardless of their 'home' status. This has been happening for about 13 years now, and is a very important step toward taking care of the impoverished in our city.
Outside of the hand up programs, Feeding Denver's Hungry offers a free grocery experience. Qualified participants, known as "shoppers", have 25 minutes to get whatever they want (within reason) from the warehouse - depending on each shopper's qualifications, they could be eligible to shop twice a month for free. Feeding Denver accepts financial donations, and is grateful for whatever they receive from patrons utilizing their free grocery service, but no donation is required and no one is treated with malcontent if they do not donate. The mission is to take care of families in need, and that is where Send HEPi signed up to get involved.
I took an opportunity to discuss with our owner, SummerEun, about her experience volunteering as a Personal Shopper - the person that goes around with each family, and makes sure they get exactly what they want and need for their household.
Overall, what did you do while volunteering with Feeding Denver's Hungry?
"I was a Personal Shopper! The Personal Shopper has a stopwatch, which is set to 25 minutes for each family. During that 25 minutes, the shoppers can grab as many items as they want from throughout the store - I just followed them with an industrial sized shopping cart! Some items are limited, being products everyone needs (like hygiene, cleaning and baby supplies), but most items were limitless... this also included helping families fulfill specific grocery needs, such as vegetarian families utilizing all plant products. It was nice to see people get what they wanted/needed, which I can imagine cuts down on food waste significantly."
Where did you volunteer?
"We volunteered at the warehouse itself, where all the shopping takes place - in their new facility in Aurora. It's only 25ish minutes outside of Denver! There was quite a bit of food in the warehouse, and most of the shoppers themselves donated at least a few dollars too - since Feeding Denver's Hungry is a non-profit, they run pretty much solely on donations. It was nice to see a community of people helping each other as much as they could - Jim and his team giving food for free to those in need, and those in need still donating what they could to give back and keep the program going for themselves, and all the others that are helped every month."
Did it seem like they needed more volunteers with regard to the number of shoppers needing help? How was your experience with the volunteers around you?
"Both times we went, there were about 13 volunteers helping around the warehouse with personal shopping, unboxing, etc. They seemed to be on top of it, but I'm sure more volunteers would mean more services provided to the community! We could tell both times that they were mostly veterans to volunteering with Feeding Denver's Homeless - but everyone was very welcoming and friendly to us 'fresh meat'. I talked with all the volunteers about how they heard about Feeding Denver, and though most of them said word of mouth, everyone had great things to say about the founder, Jim. So much buzzing about how great of a guy he is, how thankful they are for him doing this (even during these extra-trying Covid times), and one person said that "it's great to have someone who was in the homeless system who understands what we are going through." It really says a lot about someone when the only thing you hear is positivity and support. Both times as we were finishing up, a fellow volunteer would come up and ask if we were coming back soon! It felt nice to be appreciated by strangers for our effort.
How did you feel during the process?
"I was buzzing with excitement from the moment we parked the car to the moment we left. Everyone was extremely positive and friendly, and that really kept me energized the entire time we were there. I did notice that a lot of the shoppers that came in were soft spoken, even timid. I'm sure that stems from experiences they've had that weren't very safe, but it was reassuring to know that we were providing them that safe space to get the things they need and want without judgement. It takes a lot of courage to even get up and step into a place to ask for help, so I think it's important to be able to read people's body language and know when to reassure them! I'm glad that's a skill I have. I talked with my team members after we were done with the day, and I think they summed it up really well. They said, "We have a really tangible feeling that we made a positive impact on the lives of total strangers, and that's really cool." And they are right! It felt great to know those people needed help, and we could help them."
We at Send HEPi plan to continue returning to Feeding Denver's Hungry, and expanding our steps to the 4th Thursday Hand Ups, as well as other volunteering opportunities this fantastic non-profit. If you come out, say hello, and don't forget to donate what you can to help our communities here in Denver. Community safety, mental health access, and overall wellbeing all start from the ground up in a society, and if you can help even a little bit - it's more than worth it.