During the COVID-19 stay-at-home order, many families in metro Denver struggled to put food on the table either because of job loss, illness or just not being able to find items at the grocery stores.
That’s why Unite2Uplift, an organization based in Highlands Ranch, helped bring more than 1,100 uncooked meals to struggling families during the shutdown.
Founder Sue Mehrotra said the goal of the effort was to provide some relief to families in need.
“Our belief is that if they have limited resources, it will always help that they aren’t spending those resources on food,” she said. “They can use the limited resources on other needs like medications.”
Mehrotra, a Highlands Ranch resident, started the organization — formerly known as The Giving Hands of Colorado — in 2017.
Before the pandemic, the group helped students at Alternative and Title 1 schools by providing them with school supplies and food. Title 1 schools are those that receive federal funding based on poverty rates. Alternative schools are those that provide nontraditional curriculum or methods. Two of the schools who partner with the nonprofit are Eagle Academy in Lone Tree and Field Elementary in Littleton.
They also enter the schools with skilled professionals who give a lesson on their subject of expertise. In the past, they’ve taught lessons on personal finance, photography, mindfulness meditation, positive self-talk and resume writing.
“We basically started with a couple of us with a strong belief that the only way to empower marginalized communities is through education,” Mehrotra said.
The organization works with area social workers to develop lists of what items students are in need of and what barriers stand in their way.
During the COVID-19 stay-at-home order, many food banks experienced an increase in demand. In Douglas County, many reported a 400% surge in demand, according to a release from the county.
“Stores hardly had pasta, flour, everything” Mehrotra said. “So we went from one store to another. We got up early in the morning and shopped.”
Volunteers went out and bought pantry staples like rice, chickpeas, cereal, canned vegetables, pasta and pasta sauce. About eight other volunteers then filled food bags with some of each of these items and handed out to families in need. Sometimes, they also included hygiene items such as toilet paper.
While food was often dropped off and shipped to Mehrotra’s home, she and other volunteers gave out the food in the parking lots of their partner schools.
As she handed out the bags of food, Mehrotra heard many comments of thanks from the families. Some people explained the position they were in with comments like “every meal is a stress now,” and “I need this for my family.”
The demand for food has decreased as the state has begun to return to normal, but Mehrotra and her team are still working to help those struggling.
“We can still do it,” she said. “Because the volunteers are pretty energized now.”
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