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Close to 100,000 pounds of donated food made its way to an ordinary warehouse in Lakewood, Colorado.

From there, those food items will go on to do extraordinary things, like helping Jefferson County families in need stretch an already taut dollar.

The two semitractor-trailers, traveling from Salt Lake City, Utah, arrived on March 17 and 18 at The Action Center, all courtesy of Latter-day Saint Charities, an organization that is part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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Kerry Shaper, communication director for the Columbine Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, said the 50-ton donation was made possible through church member donations and items produced on church-owned farms and facilities.

The donation came about after county commissioners and church members met in December.

“I think it was Commissioner Tracy Kraft-Tharp who mentioned that foodstuffs were low in some of the pantries,” said Chris Jensen, president of the Colombine Stake. “And that’s when we went back to seek a little help with Latter-day Saint Charities.”

The donations could not have come at a better time.

“One of the things we heard very loud and clear is that there has been a sharp increase in the number of families needing help—35%, I believe,” said Tharp, who was joined at The Action Center by several other Jefferson County elected officials. “But what we’ve also heard is that the pantries are empty.”

Action Center Executive Director Pam Brier noted that before the pandemic, her organization typically had enough food to meet the needs of the community, but lingering economic effects have pushed more families into more challenging situations.

“I think it’s harder and harder to make ends meet in our community,” said Brier. “The cost of living across the Denver metro is continuing to climb—the cost of housing, and now, nationally, with inflation happening at such a dramatic rate, I think families are really really struggling to make ends meet.”

But during COVID, Brier said the need to help others jumped exponentially, so much so that The Action Center needed to bring more food through the doors.

That became challenging.

For the first time in its 53-year history,  the organization had to begin buying its own food to supplement donations—something they’ve continued to do for the past 24 months.

“Luckily, there was a lot of government funds coming from the federal government and into local communities that helped us,” she said. “But on top of that, we did need to purchase food. And so we continue to do that, so for a contribution like this from the LDS Church is so helpful, not just to The Action Center, but to the many other pantries we serve.”

More than just groceries

While most folks know The Action Center as a free grocery, Brier says The Action Center is also a valuable resource for clothing and financial assistance.

“We’ve been doing a huge amount of rent assistance work, especially during COVID,” she said. “We’ve given out $4 million of rent assistance across the county.

In addition to that, The Action Center also helps families with emergencies and small bills that don’t always meet the criteria for other financial assistance programs, such as an unexpected car repair.

There’s also an emergency bill pay program, an energy assistance program, and a free clothing bank.

“All of these different pieces come together to help us help a family manage their monthly bills, whether they are saving money on clothes or saving money on food or getting through an emergency,” explained Brier. “It’s all intended to keep people on track, to keep people housed, to keep people fed, and that’s what The Action Center is here for.”

Donations are amazing

According to Tawney Eisenbraun, marketing and communications director for The Action Center, the Center gives out around 10,000 pounds of food per day.

“So 100,000 pounds of food goes very quickly,” she said.

However, even the smallest efforts can be of the biggest help.

It can be as simple as organizing a donation drive within your own neighborhood.

“We need things like cereal,” she said. “We buy Cheerios and Fristed Flaskes, but people love variety, so host a cereal drive; host a food drive that collects hearty soups, rice beans, those kinds of shelf-stable goods.”

Both Brier and Eisenbraun emphasized a critical need for personal hygiene items—soap, shampoo, and conditioner.

Feminine hygiene items also are needed.

For more information about how to help, visit www.actioncenter.org

Members of the public may also bring donation items directly to The Action Center donation dock located at  8755 W. 14th Ave., Lakewood, Colorado.

“We can do so much more when we all come together,” said Brier. “There’s a role for all of us in helping all of the boats to rise and so I think that’s the most important lesson…look at what we can accomplish together.”