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Hunger Free Colorado: Fighting Colorado's Hunger Crisis

Your Neighborhood Food Truck is a new initiative of Hunger Free Colorado.

Andrea Fuller, a single working mother from Denver, was a recipient of the organization's services after she contacted their hotline in 2011.

Denver residents can now get their SNAP benefits right on the spot in the neighborhood food truck.

Your Neighborhood Food Truck helps residents sign up for SNAP and provide information on community food resources.

Hunger Free Colorado is working to solve Colorado's hunger crisis with a host of programs and initiatives. The nonprofit's food truck and work to increase access to the USDA's school breakfast program are just two examples of how the organization is helping nourish the state's hungry residents.
It's estimated that more than 815,000 Coloradans are at risk of hunger and yet the issue remains largely invisible within our state. One nonprofit is working increasingly hard to eradicate hunger on the verge of debilitating budget cuts to Colorado's Food Assistance Program.
 
Hunger Free Colorado, the states leading anti-hunger organization works to increase public awareness of hunger in Colorado as well as the resources available to those who are eligible. The organization is a powerful force in system and policy change to ensure all Coloradans have access to nutritious food.
 
Hunger Free was launched in 2009, as a result of a merger of the Colorado Anti-hunger Network and the Colorado Food Bank Association. The Denver Foundation's Rebecca Arno  serves on the board of directors with Hunger Free Colorado, explains how the organization began as a response to Colorado's economic downturn in 2008 and the increasing need for food assistance. 
 
SNAPYour Neighborhood Food Truck is a new initiative of Hunger Free Colorado.
 
Hunger Free Colorado has a number of initiatives in place to help people experiencing hunger get the assistance they need. Perhaps the most relevant of these is the work they do to increase participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program (SNAP). Known as the Food Assistance Program in Colorado, this federally funded program provides households with the financial resources to purchase groceries. 
 
The USDA's 2011 Program Access Index reports that only 51 percent of eligible Coloradans participate in SNAP, which Arno surmises could have something to do with Colorado's strong pioneer mentality, "People are very proud and so I think sometimes they are less likely to access benefits that they are eligible for," says Arno. "But I also think a huge part of it has been the challenges associated with administering the benefits." 
 
A few initiatives help to make the SNAP program more streamlined, including a new initiative called Your Neighborhood Food Truck. The truck visits local neighborhoods throughout metro Denver, serving up access to computers and personal support to help residents sign up for SNAP and provide information on community food resources. "It's such a visible way that we can tell people that these benefits are available to them," says Arno. "Denver residents can now get their SNAP benefits right on the spot in the neighborhood food truck." 
 
Unfortunately, more than half a million struggling Coloradans will lose food assistance this fall when a temporary boost in funding to SNAP expires, reducing the programs funding by $55 million in Colorado alone. "This small increase in SNAP benefits has helped 511,000 in struggling Colorado stay afloat during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression," said Kathy Underhill, Executive Director of Hunger Free Colorado. However, the setback won't inhibit the organizations efforts. 
 
"It's going to have a dramatic affect on low income families in Colorado, but it certainly won't slow down our activities in terms of getting benefits to people who need them who aren't signed up," says Arno.
 
No child left hungry
 
Though it may be hard to believe, Colorado's Children Campaign reported in 2012 that Colorado has one of the fastest growing rates of childhood poverty in the nation. In response to this, Hunger Free Colorado works in partnership with the Colorado No Kid Hungry campaign to remove the roadblocks to existing programs so that Colorado children can get the nutrition they deserve. 
 
One goal of the organizations comprehensive five-year plan to end childhood hunger by 2015 is a plan to increase the number of schools offering breakfast to eligible children. Hunger Free Colorado's has worked to increase access to the the USDA School Breakfast Program, which was created in response to studies that show that eating breakfast improves children's educational performance, behavior and health.
 
Thanks in part to these efforts, a new bill called Breakfast After the Bell Nutrition Program will require schools that have 80 percent or more students who qualify for free or reduced lunch, to also serve breakfast at the start of the school day. The bill will take effect at the start of the 2014 school year.
 
"It was one of the most exciting days in my professional life, to be there the morning that Governor Hickenlooper signed the Breakfast After the Bell legislation, just knowing how many tens of thousands of children would be receiving that benefit," says Arno.
 
Changing the face of hungerAndrea Fuller, a single working mother from Denver, was a recipient of the organization's services after she contacted their hotline in 2011.
 
People we may not expect are experiencing hunger. According to a 2011 Census Bureau survey, more than 25 percent of working families in Colorado do not have enough food to meet their basic needs. 
 
Andrea Fuller, a single working mother from Denver, was a recipient of the organization's services after she contacted their hotline in 2011, when $200 a month was not enough to feed her two children under the age of 12. "While I knew I could probably go to bed hungry, I couldn't let my kids go without," says Fuller.
 
The Hunger Free Hotline, a statewide toll-free number is a one-stop resource offers geographically-based referrals to both public and private food assistance programs throughout the state. The hotline put her in contact with food pantries in the area and made a potentially confusing process very easy and straightforward.
 
Fuller is also a participant in the Hunger Through My Lens project that aims to shed light on the reality of hunger in the Denver metro area. She is one of nine women who have taken photographs to show how hunger has affected their lives. 
 
Hunger Free Colorado has experienced demonstrated success with many of its initiatives and with SNAP numbers increasing every year and participation in the school food programs predicted to increase exponentially next year, Colorado can look forward to continued efforts to end its hunger crisis.

This story was produced in partnership with The Denver Foundation as part of a series on giving and philanthropy. Read more stories from this series here.

Photos by Kara Pearson Gwinn.

Read more articles by Katie Rapone.

Katie is a British, Denver-based freelance writer with a niche for Health and Wellness. Contact her here.
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