Hunger program Denver voters approved last year makes first round of grants

The program is supposed to raise an estimated $11 million a year from a sales tax increase to fight hunger.

Cartons of milk inside a DPS bus full of food and parked outside of Schmitt Elementary School in Ruby Hill. May 6, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Cartons of milk inside a DPS bus full of food and parked outside of Schmitt Elementary School in Ruby Hill. May 6, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Donna Bryson. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver voters likely weren’t thinking about a pandemic last year when they approved the Healthy Food for Denver Kids program that increased the sales tax to raise money to feed children. But the pandemic is here, and its impact on the economy has doubled the amount of the population that’s struggling with hunger to 22 percent.

The Denver Department of Public Health & Environment’s Healthy Food for Denver’s Kids Commission announced this week it’s awarding nearly $6 million in grants to 25 organizations.

The grant awards ranged from just over $1 million that Denver Public Schools will use to build a greenhouse to $52,575 that Stedman Elementary will use to feed kids healthy snacks and for health and nutrition education activities in its garden.

In all, eight DPS schools or affiliates received grants. Produce from the greenhouse will go into school lunches, and the facility will eventually become part of a program to steer students to urban agriculture careers. Other DPS recipients included food pantries at the campus shared by West Early College and West Leadership Academy, which got $248,577, and at South High School, which got $181,850.

Non-DPS recipients include the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver, which got $416,184 for a partnership with Food Bank of the Rockies that provides daily meals and snacks throughout the summer and every weekend year round. Denver Public Library received $219,889 to help feed children at several branches and to hire teen assistants from the communities where the snacks are distributed. Colorado Circles for Change, which works to keep young people out of jail, is using its $93,800 to feed participants in its programs in under-resourced communities.

The citizen-led Healthy Food for Denver Kids proposal that Denver voters approved in November increased the sales tax by .08 percent — less than a penny for every $10 spent — to raise an estimated $11 million a year over a decade. After the vote, a 13-member commission that includes city staff, City Council representatives, members of the public and representatives of food organizations was formed to oversee spending the tax funds.

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