Like every year, volunteers were already hard at work packing boxes by the time the sun broke over the Denver Feed a Family event on Saturday. Like every year, it was cold. And, like every year, the task of feeding thousands began the night before. Organizers worked through the night to make sure an army of helpers would be squared away to honor Daddy Bruce Randolph’s legacy come morning.
But, of course, 2020 isn’t like every year. The pandemic and resulting recession helped fuel unprecedented food insecurity across the city as everyone’s budgets got tighter. Though soliciting donations became a little harder to do, the Feed a Family Team were determined to dole out 10,000 boxes filled with complete Thanksgiving dinners, twice as many as last year.
Denice Edwards, “a lobbyist by trade,” helped with the fundraising.
“We’re feeding people that, one time, would have contributed,” she said. “It takes a lot of manpower and a lot of resources.”
Corporate donors helped cover the bigger costs while individual supporters showed up in droves to supply the hands on deck. Those who couldn’t give money could give their time.
There were fewer helpers on the assembly line on Bruce Randolph Avenue this year, due to distancing guidelines. Plenty more arrived in their cars, ready to deliver six or eight boxes to households around town. Everyone who had a hand in the process said they felt a responsibility and a joy to help out their neighbors, especially now.
“There’s a lot of hungry people. They’re not getting help. There’s no jobs. Knowing I can help and do my part really just makes me feel good.”
“It always feels good, but we know people are struggling,” Bridget Andrews said.
She and her colleagues, deputies who are members of the local Black Sheriff’s Protective Association chapter, came out before dawn to get the box-stuffing started. Her family has dealt with some instability, too. Her husband, Phillip, who has helped her at this event over the last three years, was a teacher before the pandemic struck and he lost his job. He’s been working for Amazon and for the Department of Veterans Affairs in the meantime, though he misses face time with kids in class.
Mandy Kawtoski, a nurse at Swedish Medical Center, volunteered for the first time on Saturday. She always wanted to do more things like this, but she worked night shifts until recently and was often too tired.
She’s tired for another reason this year. Working at a hospital, she said: “It’s scary. It’s stressful. It’s depressing.”
Still, she found the energy to wake up early and do some manual labor in the cold. This time of year, so many months into the pandemic, she realized she needed something like to see human beings outside of work.
“I live alone, and I can’t spend time with people, so it’s good to be outside and putting energy into helping people,” she said.
“Everything feels different this year because of COVID.”
– Madeline Nealy
Bri Zimmer, who’s volunteered at this event for years, was volunteering with 16 members of her family. They will forego a big Thanksgiving dinner this year, but she said working alongside them here helped fill the void.
“It’s nice to be out and be part of a community,” Dena Norton said. Her family is also foregoing a large holiday dinner, and she said this helps her deal with the feeling of isolation in a number of ways.
Victoria Haynes, who has volunteered for the turkey drive for years, said she felt the need to do something positive in 2020 like never before.
“It’s just emotional right now. The politics of it. You’re seeing people who are sick. Families that are on the street,” she said. “I wish there was more I could do.”
But Haynes said she’s grateful that her family has its needs met. They are able to pay it forward.
“It’s a sense of heaviness,” her daughter, Jasmine Dubose, put it, “but it’s a heaviness of gratitude and wanting to give back.”
“This too shall pass,” Venus Nelson said of this difficult moment, though she said better days ahead require work like this. She doesn’t mind putting in the legwork, she said: “It fills up my spirit when I come out here to give.”
“For me, it’s just impactful to keep Daddy Bruce’s legacy alive.”
– Quincy Shannon
“Its been a tough year for everybody.”