It is mid-morning, and for the second day in a row, it is a sweltering 98 degrees. Yet, a crowd of 20 is lined up in the Westwood subdivision in southwest Denver, patiently waiting for a routine arrival.
“A lot of people here, they don’t have much money and they can’t go to the store to buy food,” said Josie Valchant, a Westwood resident for 31 years.
“It’s great that they come here.”
Valchant is one of 1,700 individuals a month served with no charge by the JFS Mobile Food and Hygiene Pantry, a mobile service that started in July, 2022, and benefits roughly 20,000 families a year.
The mobile pantry has 15 different routes in the Denver area, and each neighborhood served sees the pantry once every two weeks.
“By the time we get here, there’s always a bit of a line,” said mobile pantry coordinator Giustino Izzo.
On the day we visited, the mobile pantry rolled up on South Xavier St. The crew of Izzo, another JFS employee and two volunteers stop at a curb, quickly setting up a tent in an adjacent driveway that shades piles of fruit, vegetables, paper and hygiene products.
Inside the mobile refrigerated pantry are food staples; canned and dry goods, with the top-ranked of needs in any low-income areas: meat. The second-most popular of requested items: canned fruit.
“This is really rewarding for me,” says Izzo, who previously worked at Whole Foods before joining JFS in June. “Whoever needs food, I’d like to give them food.”
The mobile food pantry augments the JFS Weinberg food pantry on Tamarac near Hampden, which serves over 46,000 individuals a year. Some locations on the mobile routes assist over 70 or 80 during each stop.
In Westwood, the sun continues to bake, although those in the neighborhood don’t mind. Most have hats on and some have towels around their necks, but all are sweating rather profusely.
As each resident draws close to the back of the mobile pantry, where there are some metal steps to climb, Izzo chats briefly with each (“Most of them expect me to know each of their names by now. I don’t, but I’m working on it,” he says.) and checks their names on his iPad. In the current climate, ascending the steps into the pantry’s cold environment is a temporary respite from the elements. The real relief comes when volunteer David Nosan points to the glass freezer and asks what kind of meat they prefer.
Then, a few steps away, Nosan’s wife Marla greets the same resident, providing canned goods and other staples and throwing them into a basket.
Once a resident is stocked up in the mobile pantry, they leave the refrigerated van and are greeted at the tent by JFS employee Henry Sellmeyer, who assists with the paper goods and perishables.
One of the customers is a bit methodical, delighted that she has more choices and volume than she expected.
The line dissipates in about 40 minutes, and the residents walk home, thankful for assistance. Their sweat is a small price to pay for the reward.
“This is really nice, because times have gotten hard,” said resident Bianca Varela, a mother of five whose most important item on the shopping list is diapers.
“That’s why I’m here.”
The volunteers collapse the tent and the mobile pantry rolls on. There’s another stop to make, and another line of grateful people awaits.
Copyright © 2023 by the Intermountain Jewish News