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Cars full of volunteers turned out on a brisk Saturday morning outside a Cherry Hills Village church near Englewood to deliver bags of food to hundreds of families ahead of Thanksgiving.

A collaboration between Arapahoe County’s Human Services Department and Brave Church, at 3651 S. Colorado Blvd., the food drive on Nov. 13 saw over 60 cars of volunteers arrive to pick up food from the church before driving throughout the county and beyond to bring food to more than 315 families, about 1,500 people. 

“A lot of our families have transportation barriers,” said Kala Slater, a volunteer and community outreach organizer for the county. “So it helps the community get more involved and helps serve our families better.”

For the past 18 years, the county’s Human Services Department has held food drive events around the holiday season to help families put food on the table. But it wasn’t until last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced shut downs and social distancing, that the department began partnering with other community organizations to deliver food right to families doors. 

Slater said it’s a model that’s likely to stay, enabling the county to reach more than double the number of families it served last year, which was 115.

The bags of food, which are donated by volunteers and include stuffing, sauces, vegetables and fruit, can feed a family of five according to Slater. 

“Even if there’s one person in the family, they’re getting a bag of food that’s enough for five,” she said. “If there’s more than five people we continue to add more and more bags.”

County officials said the need remains high among the families they help deliver to and who they also serve throughout the year. Some are homeless or between homes. Many experience food insecurity, issues that have only been exacerbated by COVID-19. 

Amanda Miller, who lives with her 4-year-old son William in Englewood, said she hasn’t worked at her King Soopers job since late October after contracting COVID-19 and dealing with a death in her family. 

She’d been receiving food assistance even before the pandemic through the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), she said, but after taking time off work she turned to Arapahoe County for help with food for her Thanksgiving meal. 

“Without that, things would have been pretty hard this year. It really helped out a lot,” Miller said. “It’s heartbreaking to see that someone might not have Thanksgiving, or just everyday meals. I hope that people help other people with their families and food, and I think that should be all the time, not just Thanksgiving.”

Before the pandemic, more than 53,000 people were estimated to be food insecure in Arapahoe County in 2019, according to data from Feeding America. The organization predicted that up to 75,000 people could have experienced food insecurity in 2020, though no official government data currently exists for this. 

The county also found that, as of 2020, at least 245 people within the county are homeless, a 7% increase from 2019.

“We are definitely seeing increases in the number of families that are in need,” said county Commissioner Carrie Warren-Gully, representing Arapahoe County’s District 1 and a volunteer during the Nov. 13 food drive. 

Warren-Gully said nonprofits throughout the county are reporting they now feed double or triple the number of families they were serving before the pandemic.

She said through partnering with faith-based organizations like Brave Church and attracting volunteers, the county is able to meet a level of need it otherwise couldn’t. 

“We can’t do it without faith-based community, without our non-profit community, without our business community and our municipal partners as well,” she said. “It takes a family.”