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Aurora food pantry struggles to find space to operate

Food Connect Colorado supplies in storage
Posted at 8:45 PM, Dec 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-23 22:45:58-05

AURORA, Colo — Eight months after closing its former location in Aurora, Food Connect Colorado is still struggling to find a new space to operate.

President Elizabeth Watts said commercial real estate landlords have been rejecting her organization because they don’t want a food pantry among their other businesses.

Food Connect Colorado had to move out of its location on Airport Boulevard in April after a dramatic increase in rent costs, Watts said. Ever since, its shelves, carts, and refrigerators have been sitting in storage.

“We closed up and put everything in [storage]. And I thought, ‘Oh, you know, it’s just a few months and I’ll find a new location,’” she told Denver7. “I’ve been looking ever since.”

Watts has expressed interest in many locations over the past several months, she said, but has not been able to find a landlord or property manager willing to house the organization.

“Everything is fine until they say, ‘Oh, what’s your business?’ And I say, ‘Oh, we’re a food pantry.’ And immediately, I get something like, ‘Oh, well, we don’t want that kind of business in our complex or in our shopping center,’” Watts said. “And I try to tell them, it’s not like you think. You know, it’s not homeless people or drug addicts that are coming to food pantries. It’s families. It’s people that are elderly or disabled. It’s people that have large families. That’s who comes to food pantries.”

Data compiled by Food Connect Colorado showed that nearly half of those utilizing its services rented a home, and more than a third owned a home. More than 68% lived in a household with four or more people.

The organization operates as a functioning shop, similar to a grocery store in almost every way — save the fact that it is a food pantry, giving away food to its “shoppers.” It distributes food primarily from the Food Bank of the Rockies and is run by volunteers.

Food Connect Colorado and other food banks have reported rising need for their services. According to Feeding America, one in 12 people in Colorado are facing hunger, including one in nine children.

In addition to looking for retail spaces to rent, Watts said she has had many conversations with representatives of the city of Aurora about finding an operating space. None have resulted in a breakthrough. A spokesperson for the city told Denver7 that it does not have funding it can use for food pantries, but suggested she partner with other pantries in the area.

Watts said Food Connect Colorado filled an important void for the Aurora area, in that it was a food source that allowed families to choose the best food options for them and was open for many hours each day. She hopes she will soon find a space from which it can offer these benefits again.

“I want the community to know that probably one of your neighbors has come to my food pantry, and you may not know it because they probably haven’t said anything,” she said. “It helps these people a lot. It helps make the difference between being able to make the rent or buy their medicine.”