Denver charities are gearing up for Thanksgiving

Jewish Family Service says twice the number of families signed up for its Thanksgiving food boxes this year compared to the last several years.

Edward Barela poses for a portrait as he eats a Thanksgiving dish at the Denver Rescue Mission, Nov. 27, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Edward Barela poses for a portrait as he eats a Thanksgiving dish at the Denver Rescue Mission, Nov. 27, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Donna Bryson. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Organizations that feed the hungry are gearing up for a pandemic Thanksgiving.

Jewish Family Service said 520 families have signed up for its Thanksgiving food boxes, more than twice the number served the last several years. The nonprofit has seen an even bigger jump in visits to its food pantry, at 3201 South Tamarac Drive, since the arrival of the coronavirus and of the economic slowdown associated with the disease outbreak.

Jewish Family Service spokesperson Jenny Herren said that before March, the pantry served about 35 families on any given day. That has increased to 150 families. The pantry is open Tuesdays, Wednesday and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and provides not only food, but items such as diapers, toilet paper, feminine hygiene products, cleaning supplies and pet food.

“We’ve had people that have never come to the pantry or needed support” before, Herren said. “The need is going to increase into the next year, for sure.”

Her organization’s monthly spending on food and supplies has increased from $2,000 to $40,000 since the pandemic struck. September was the busiest month ever for the pantry, with 7,157 individuals from 1,943 households receiving 2,923 food boxes. Herren attributed the spike to the expiration over the summer of $600 in weekly federal jobless benefits and to increasing unemployment.

Grants from the Singer Family Foundation, Denver Department of Public Health & Environment, and LeverLab Foundation have helped Jewish Family Service keep up with the increasing need. It also has received individual donations and is seeking funds for Thanksgiving meals.

The coronavirus has prompted logistical changes at pantries across Denver.

To avoid crowding at Jewish Family Service, volunteers and staff have been packing food boxes instead of letting visitors choose their own food. Visitors now drive up to Jewish Family Service and boxes are placed in their cars. A similar drive-through process is planned for Thanksgiving distribution on Nov. 24.

The Denver Rescue Mission is taking COVID-19 precautions and seeking donations for its annual turkey drive, which began Sunday and runs to Nov. 25. Denver Rescue Mission spokesperson Nicole Tschetter said people are being asked to wear masks when they drop off frozen turkeys for the drive at locations such as the Ministry Outreach Center, at 5725 East 39th Avenue. Staff receiving the donations will wear masks and maintain a six-foot distance, Tschetter said.

The thousands of turkeys collected by the Denver Rescue Mission are given to churches, nonprofits and other organizations that then distribute them to families.

The Denver Rescue Mission also partners with the Denver Broncos to hand out 3,000 Thanksgiving meal boxes to families at Empower Field at Mile High. Tschetter said Monday that 3,000 families and individuals had already registered for the Nov. 24 Empower Field distribution, but that extra boxes would be handed out on a first-come, first-serve basis from from 11 a.m. to noon, after the distribution to registered families from 8 to 11 a.m.

Recipients are asked to wear masks when they pick up their turkeys, which will be placed in cars.

The Denver Rescue Mission set a goal of collecting 15,000 turkeys in all this year, similar to what it has collected in previous years. That is based on anticipated demand, Tschetter said.

“We also assess the capacity at which our operations team can meet the demand of when it comes to collecting and distributing turkeys,” she said. “For now, with the manpower we have, 15,000 turkeys is the ‘sweet spot.'”

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