Seeing certain statistics about hunger issues in Jefferson County can make the heart ache. Like seeing how 30 percent of students enrolled in Jeffco Public Schools grades preschool through 12th are …
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Seeing certain statistics about hunger issues in Jefferson County can make the heart ache. Like seeing how 30 percent of students enrolled in Jeffco Public Schools grades preschool through 12th are eligible for free and reduced lunch — or how 56 percent of low-income residents in Jefferson County were enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in 2014, according to Jefferson County Public Health.
Seeing numbers is one thing, but actually seeing how hunger can affect the community is another. Lakewood Mayor Adam Paul said he's seen how hunger can affect the community when he visited an after-school program hosted by the Gold Crown Foundation, a nonprofit that offers youth sports and education programs.
The Gold Crown Foundation's after-school program provides food to children who are part of it. During Paul's visit, he saw children asking if they can take some food home so that their families would have something to eat. That memory stuck with him.
“That's heartbreaking, and that's not unique. That's one of a thousand stories and probably one of a hundred you hear every day,” Paul said. “If we want our kids to be healthy then we need to make sure their basic needs are being met and we want to make sure our seniors can have a high quality of life.”
It's not just children who are suffering from hunger. Often times seniors will have to choose between paying for medication, or paying for food.
Paul wants to end hunger in Lakewood, and created The Council to End Hunger in Lakewood. The council consists of faith organizations, Jefferson County schools, The Action Center, Hunger Free Colorado, Jefferson County Public Health, service organizations and others. The idea of the council is to work together toward one common goal — to end hunger in Lakewood, particularly for children and seniors.
The council has met three times, and it was created in spring. Initial meetings were to determine what each organization is doing to combat hunger. Now, the council is mapping out where resources like food pantries are in the city, and identifying places where resources may be scarce to some in the community.
“What's interesting about Jeffco is that we have so many hidden pockets. We have urban areas, we have suburban areas, we have mountains,” said Rebecca Dunn, coordinator for Community and Family Connections at Jefferson County Schools. The Community and Family Connections department works with families experiencing homelessness. “The challenge is to find where those hidden pockets are.”
The organizations working together have helped them better communicate with each other. Taylor Washington, the community engagement manager for Hunger Free Colorado, a nonprofit organization that connects people to food resources, said there have been conversations within the council about aligning programs to make things more accessible for residents. An example of that is moving food pantry times within some organizations so that they don't all fall on the same day.
“We see impact always being deeper when it's led by community members. Jeffco has a really active community in fighting hunger,” Washington said.
“If we just change the life of one person, or make a difference for one child or one hungry adult, that's super meaningful. If we can do that on a grand scale, then at the end of the day it'll show exactly how much our community cares, and our community cares a lot,” Paul said. “At the end of the day that is what true public service is about. Trying to help those in need.”
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