Food For Thought is a non-profit organization committed to fighting child hunger in Denver Elementary Schools. Bob Bell and John Theilen founded Food For Thought in 2012 after becoming aware of the enormous need in Denver Public Schools. Since then, Food For Thought has delivered “Powersacks” each Friday, providing kids with food to eat over the weekend. The genuine, gregarious and kind hearted Bob Bell agreed to explain all that goes into Food For Thought and allowed us to see it in action.
How do you identify what schools need help?
What we do is find the highest level poverty schools in the Denver public system; not hard to do, they’re called Title 1 schools. In those schools 95% of the population exists on a free and reduced lunch program, which means they have a targeted income for their family of four that is $29,000 or below. That is right in our back yard. John and I are Colorado natives and the mere thought of little guys not being able to eat over the weekend, good luck trying to sleep after we’d heard that. So we just said let’s try it.
We were turned on to Fairview and Columbian Elementary Schools and had about 500 kids on our radar screen. The model became really simple. We didn’t want to make the program an opt-in program for these little guys. That’s what was happening in Arvada and it didn’t work. They sent a form home with these kids at the start of the year, telling them if they’re hungry to get it signed and bring it back and we’ll see if we can get something to you. In most of those cases these kids do not have anybody at home that cares enough to send the form back or their pride gets in the way, even when they’re hungry. That form doesn’t ever reappear. So we knew that 95% of the kids need it, we’re going to feed them all. Yep, we know there is about a 5% variance. Yep, we know some kids don’t need it. What has for sure proven itself is that the kids know where the real need is and the they move that 5% around efficiently and get it where it belongs. If a kiddo needs two bags that week, he’ll take home two bags. So we are an opt out program.
Tell us about the partnership Food For Thought has with Food Bank of the Rockies?
Food Bank of the Rockies does an incredible job. If it weren’t for them, programs like ours simply couldn’t exit. They provide us with food at a great price; if we had to shop somewhere else, our food costs would triple.
What is the average demographic of a student you’re helping?
The demographic is a little bit difficult to talk about. With what we’ve learned about these kids and the multitude of problems they exist with, food is one of the least. However, food is the one thing we can do, and do well, to try and help them. We know it is not going to be the end all. The one component that we know for sure is if they don’t eat on the weekend, we can’t expect these kids to come to school Monday morning and focus. They can’t do it. They can’t properly learn and socially integrate. So as far as we’re concerned, if we can put a bow around that, it is one step to getting them closer to where they want to be.
What motivates you to keep going?
What we’ve learned in five years, its not just about food. That’s the cool thing, it is changing the culture. The one consistent thing for a lot of these kids, is knowing that at 3:00 on Friday a bag will be there for them. We’ve never missed a day and we never will. We pledge to every one of those kids that we will not abandon you.
How is Food For Thought funded?
We started Food For Thought on the very simple premise that we will never have any overhead and we do not to this day. The reason it works is because the community is now part of Food For Thought as much as those of us who started it. If our volunteers do not show up on Friday morning, it would be a heck of a long day, because we have 3,000 bags of food to fill. The model remains that no one gets paid for this. Friday morning is the sum total of what we do. We come together to solve it. Every dollar donated to us buys food for kids. We are really proud we’ve gone from two schools to nine and are in the process of adding five more. We are at roughly 3,000 kids right now and our goal is to be at 5,200 kids at the start of next school year. Those are lofty numbers, but I’m here to tell you there are 30,000 kids in Denver Public in that same poverty bracket. So we have a heck of a long way to go, but we’re making really good progress thanks to you, our community.
The only way Food For Thought grows is by donations. We tease that we are one level below non-profit because we’re broke. We’re trying to work ourselves out of a job, quite honestly. The more money we can raise, the more kids we can help. We have nothing in the way of marketing. We have have a great website that a friend of ours donated to us.
The ability to volunteer and donate is all there. If you like what you see, help us spread the word.