When Bryan Decker started the North Denver Cares Food Pantry nearly 20 years ago, it was a big deal to be able to provide groceries to six families a night out of his church’s kitchen.
Now Decker, 82, works with hundreds of volunteers to provide free meat, dairy, fruit, vegetables and dry goods to an average of 400 families every week at the pantry’s warehouse at 6900 W. 117th Ave. in Broomfield.
Despite being entirely volunteer-run, Decker is struggling to keep the pantry open as costs for rent, fuel, food and repairs continue to rise. In September, one of the pantry’s volunteers launched a crowdfunding campaign to try to keep the pantry afloat.
“If I can’t find more funding to keep us open, we would have no alternative but to close the doors,” Decker said.
Decker started the food pantry in 2003 with his wife and a group of friends after a discussion about the number of people asking their church, Calvary Evangelical Free Church, for help buying food.
“We decided to try it out and see what we could do,” Decker said. “We put out the word we were accepting food and bought what we couldn’t get.”
The word got out, and the food pantry grew to serve 150 families a week out of the church’s gymnasium and kitchen in Broomfield. Decker started looking for a permanent location for the pantry.
North Denver Cares Food Pantry moved into its current home in 2010, became a registered nonprofit organization and continued to grow. On the busiest weeks, 450 families will pick up groceries from the pantry, Decker said.
The warehouse is lined with industrial refrigerators and freezers along with shelves and giant bins of donated food, from staples like peanut butter and canned tuna to birthday cakes and fresh fruit from local grocery stores.
The pantry is open three days a week, from Tuesday to Thursday. Tuesday is the busiest day, Decker said, and volunteers fill shopping carts and cardboard boxes with food for folks to pick up. Clients will receive a full shopping cart, half-full shopping cart or a cardboard “banana box” of food depending on the size of their household.
On less busy days, clients can shop the pantry alongside a volunteer to decide what they want to take home.
Sarah Kleinhans started shopping at the pantry after her son was diagnosed with cancer at 6 years old and, as a single parent, she wasn’t able to work and care for him at the same time.
As someone with experience working in the nonprofit sector, Kleinhans said she felt shocked and embarrassed to need food from the pantry at first, but she was never met with anything but kindness from Decker and pantry volunteers.
“He didn’t judge me,” Kleinhans said. “I didn’t feel humiliated. It’s embarrassing for some people, like why do I need this, I must have failed. But Bryan just wants you to have nutritious food, he doesn’t look down on you or judge you.”
Now, Kleinhans uses her weekly share to support five families who have children with cancer, supplementing it with other groceries she buys herself.
Rising food costs at the grocery store are impacting the pantry just as they impact individual families, Decker said.
“Every week I walk into the grocery store and I’m amazed that food prices seem to keep going up, and it’s the same way with a food bank. Even though we buy wholesale, you still have to pay more money for it, so that requires more funding to keep us in operation,” he said.
The pantry uses its own trucks to pick up donations from grocery stores and restaurants, and Decker estimates fuel costs have tripled in the last two years.
With no paid employees – Decker works 50 to 70 hours a week as the volunteer executive director – it costs between $100,000 and $125,000 annually to keep the pantry’s doors open. So far, the fundraising campaign has raised $26,000 of its $40,000 goal. If the pantry is not able to raise enough money, Decker may need to shut down by the middle of 2024.
“I feel like we provide a vital service for folks because food is, of course, something you have to have, and we try to supply really good, wholesome food for people to enjoy,” he said.
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