On a particularly cold Sunday in February, jittering volunteers lined up in front of Colorado Friendship’s 24-foot clothes trailer, spoons and spatulas poised and ready to serve steaming chili and hefty chocolate cake slices. Marty Leopold, a volunteer manager who’s been with Colorado Friendship for five years, boasts about the chili his wife makes for the program. He does plenty to help out as well, moving large sacks of clothing to the closet to be sorted.
Colorado Friendship volunteers from all over the county converge on the Boulder Justice Center parking lot every Sunday evening to distribute food and clothes, catering to the nearly 1,000 homeless people who call the city of Boulder home with a program called Hot Meal on the Street. The nonprofit organization, which is also responsible for Incredibles, a program that sends underprivileged students home with backpacks full of healthy snacks, hopes to expand these two existing programs this year.
Colorado Friendship started 15 years ago as a National Emergency Response Team, but decided to expand its reach and start these additional programs to better serve the community through continual support. Though the organization has expanded with programs to regularly provide food and clothing to the homeless, it also continues to be one of the first ones on the scene to provide disaster relief. During September’s catastrophic flooding in Colorado, they assisted more than a 1,000 flood victims.
Colorado Friendship’s board members hired Jeff Grossberg 10 months ago as director of development to help make the organization’s expansion dreams a reality. Grossberg’s goal is to increase awareness of the work the organization does in order to raise funds, and to obtain more volunteers, which he says are the hardest to come by.
When he visits the volunteers operating the Hot Meals on the Street program, Grossberg says, he sees Colorado Friendship volunteers providing a level of service that goes beyond food and clothing. The level of caring and community really makes the organization stand out to Grossberg. Boulder people in need receive these life and material necessities, but with it comes so much more from these volunteers — acceptance, compassion and a joke or two.
“They appreciate the openness as much as they do the food. People walk by the street and it looks inviting,” Grossberg says. “You’ve got Marty running around cracking jokes and making people feel welcome. And it’s great for people to come and be with each other in a good environment.”
While the organization provides the ingredients for the Sunday meals, Grossberg says, it’s the volunteers who give the time and care to make a savory meal. During the summer months they serve around 200 people and usually see a turnout of 75 during the winter.
Many of those in need brave a frigid bike ride or walk during winter to the trailer that transports the non-perishable foods and houses a closet full of apparel, from tennis shoes to heavy winter coats. If the closet does not have what a person is looking for that evening, if they need a different size or nicer clothes for an interview, they can submit requests and the organization will try to bring those articles the next Sunday.
Paul Sanchez, a legally blind man in his mid-20s who receives Social Security but still doesn’t have the constant assurance of being able to buy food, uses the organization’s services at least once a month.
“It’s an everyday thing — you must eat to survive, so I try not to fall into the negatives of worrying about it,” says Sanchez. “I always don’t have money, so having this trailer to come to takes care of my needs without me having to worry as much.”
David Chiow, a Boulder volunteer who assisted Sanchez in finding appropriate clothing for the chilly 20-degree weather, says he finds helping people who use the service rewarding because everyone is so appreciative. Chiow got his family involved in the organization to give back to the community by not just providing funds, but the time necessary for the program to continue as well. He brings his two young sons to work the clothes closet whenever there is a need.
“This is the best way to warm your heart on a cold winter day,” Chiow said after his work was finished for the evening.
With the success of the Hot Meals on the Street program and the continuing support of volunteers, Colorado Friendship looked to add an additional program that focused on providing for children in the community. Liz Friedenson, a director for Colorado Friendship, reached out to Rocky Mountain Elementary in Longmont before the beginning of this school year because 95 percent of its students take advantage of the free and reduced-price lunch program, which indicated to her that they could benefit from a food service. So Colorado Friendship devised the Incredibles program, in which volunteers fill backpacks with healthy food, such as bagged vegetables and Cheerios. These backpacks are then distributed to the kids on Fridays to provide them with sources of adequate nutrition over the weekend. The Incredibles program alleviates the school staff ’s worries that students whose families are having a tough time getting by are not just receiving the two meals provided on weekdays through the free and reduced meal plan.
“It intuitively causes them to perform better at school. It encourages their best behavior and hardest work,” Stephen Hoel, principal of Rocky Mountain Elementary, says of his students’ reaction to the program. “The more they have those needs taken care of, the more mental space they have to attend to the things we need them to.”
The relationship with the school has surpassed the parameters of the Incredibles program, Hoel adds. When he asked if the organization could provide a few coats for a family with six children, Friedenson sent 400 to ensure that everyone’s needs could be met at the school. After the school made sure that the coats were distributed to the students who needed one, they sent the extras back to the organization. The organization provided additional support during the flood as well.
“The school had families displaced by the flood; I called Liz to let her know that the food was great, but asked if they had clothes, jackets,” Hoel says. “It’s that kind of relationship that’s been the most exciting for us in the last six or seven months.”
The Incredibles program currently serves 65 students at the school, and Colorado Friendship looks to double that amount and expand the program to include an additional three schools. Colorado Friendship also wants its Hot Meals on the Street program to include additional evenings and cities this year. The expansion of these programs requires additional funding, but because Colorado Friendship is a volunteer organization and receives a lot of food contributions from Costco and Abo’s Pizza, Grossberg says, the contribution of $1,200 would be enough to add another school to the Incredibles program. Grossberg says he hopes that the more people they make aware of these programs, the more likely Colorado Friendship will be able to obtain the funding that will fulfill all of its expansion goals.