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50 Years Of Good Eating In The ‘Hood

Food Pantry An Oasis In A Food Desert

by Sierra Fleenor

Sierra Fleenor

GPHC began as Park Hill Action Committee (PHAC) in 1956. In 1969, we united with Northeast Park Hill Civic Association to become what we now call Greater Park Hill Community, Inc. We were founded with the goal of integrating our neighborhood and providing a united voice for change within the City and County of Denver.

In 1967, we worked with the City to purchase our building using War on Poverty funds. That same year we opened the GPHC Food Pantry.

This year has marked the 50th anniversary of our food pantry, but we almost didn’t realize we had reached this important milestone because we were so busy sorting cans and fresh produce, helping clients, and coordinating our Thanksgiving Giveaway.

Can you believe it? Fifty years of providing nutritional support to people in Greater Park Hill. Fifty years of neighbors, faith communities, scout troops, birthday parties, and businesses coming together to collect and donate food to GPHC.

Special anniversaries make me wonder from whence we came, so I headed to the Greater Park Hill News archives to learn about what the food pantry used to be like.

The oldest mention I could find of the food pantry dates to 1977, but we know from the history on our website and other references that the food pantry started another 10 years earlier. In 1967, we didn’t have the robust newspaper we have today. Back then, the paper was a newsletter copied on colored paper with a page long “Chairman’s Chat” – a note from the chair of GPHC covering everything from zoning to integration. There wasn’t much print space and the food pantry wasn’t included in these newsletters.

In March of 1977, where the first mention of the food pantry can be found, a request for a refrigerator or freezer appeared in the paper. “From time to time quantities of perishable foods are donated to the Food Shelf,” explained the unidentified author.

This sentiment was echoed in the August issue of that year: “Anyone who has more produce in their garden this summer than they can use, GPHC Food Shelf is asking for donations to help supply fresh produce for the Food Shelf.” Yes, 40 years ago, GPHC was distributing fresh food to clients, something many food pantries have only just recently begun to tackle.

In May of that year, a short article discussing the Food Bank Coalition, an effort to ensure all food pantries in Denver had ample supplies of food, noted what they consider to be the staples that “could keep a person or family going. There are: pinto beans, corn meal, powdered milk, spaghetti, oatmeal, flour, rice, baking powder, canned soup, tomato paste, and peanut butter.”

Today, we distribute all the same foods, and a lot more. Popular items now include spinach, corn, potatoes, any type of canned fruit, canned meats (including tuna, spam, and chunk chicken), hearty soups, hamburger helper, rice, dehydrated potatoes, etc. We have also found that people are frequently in need of hygiene products including deodorant, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, diapers, tampons, baby wipes, and razors. Our clients also request fresh bread, meat, eggs, and dairy products. When we receive these items, they fly off the shelves.

Looking through the archives made me realize how incredible this community really is. There has been, and continues to be, a persistent need in our neighborhood for access to fresh, healthy food. After all these years, much of Park Hill is still a food desert – where access to a full-scale grocery store can be difficult, especially for people without cars. Many people have to take multiple buses, for an hour or more, to get to the grocery store. They then have to turn around and ride back on those same buses, if they time it right, with their groceries.

While we are unable to meet all the needs of people who lack access, we do provide support to our neighbors who lack regular access to food.

Of course, we aren’t the only ones doing this work in Greater Park Hill. To see what’s happening, all you have to do is stop by the Northeast Park Hill Coalition meetings, which take place the second Thursday of the month at 6 p.m. at the District 2 police station. Or, visit the Dahlia Campus for Health and Well-Being, which provides a whole array of support to neighbors.

Together, we are working to make life more livable for vulnerable populations in our neighborhood. It is a privilege to sit at the helm of such an incredible organization alongside our board and to continue to serve our amazing clients. Thank you, Greater Park Hill, for all your volunteerism, your donations, your support, and the honor of serving you.

Onward to year 51. See you in 2018!

Sierra Fleenor is executive director of GPHC, Inc.

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