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Weld Food Bank and second graders partner up to address food insecurity

Second graders at Billie Martinez Elementary in Greeley started a "food distribution day" with Weld Food Bank after they saw there was hunger in their community.

GREELEY, Colo. — A partnership between the Weld Food Bank, Billie Martinez Elementary School and Jefferson High School is helping feed Weld County residents who face food insecurity.

The high school held a food drive, then the items were distributed, along with donated food from the Weld Food Bank mobile pantry and the second graders of Billie Martinez Elementary.

Karlie Mitchke is a second-grade teacher at the elementary school and helped start the project in 2019 to address the issue of hunger in their area.

“We are doing a ‘food distribution day,'” Mitchke said. “Our second graders noticed there was hunger in our community, and so we made the project.”

Credit: Byron Reed
Billie Martinez second grade teacher, Karli Mitchke.

According to Billie Martinez Elementary, about 87% of their students receive free and reduced lunch and 91% identify as Latino, Black and Indigenous people. Mitchke said it’s important that they are instilling values of helping residents in high areas of need.

“We live in what we call a kind of a food desert,” Mitchke said. “We live on a side of Greeley that doesn’t have a lot of money, so we have to drive to go get groceries, healthy food and that’s what’s causing hunger in our community.”

Credit: Byron Reed

The food distribution day is part of an effort to provide fresh, healthy food for the nearly 60,000 residents in need of food assistance whom the Weld Food Bank serves every month. The food bank has eight direct service programs like their mobile food pantry to get food directly to the individuals in the areas of highest need.

“We are predominantly rural, its over 4,000 square miles, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for someone to drive and hour or two to access food,” said Stephanie Gausch, chief development officer for Weld Food Bank. “We do our best to make sure that we’re bringing that food on a regular schedule to those communities where we can best serve that need.”

Credit: Byron Reed

Last year, the food bank delivered 12.4 million pounds of fresh produce and nutritional foods throughout the county, and 2.5 million pounds of food were distributed through their mobile food pantry. Alongside the students, the group helped hand out meat, dairy and produce items during the schools’ distribution day. Gausch said it’s a full-circle teaching moment for the students.

“Billie Martinez does an excellent job every year with their second grade teaching about hunger,” Gausch said. “It’s critical for us to be able to bring the food to the need directly because, especially right now, we’re seeing such an increase in the amount of individuals that are hungry and are seeking our services that haven’t had to seek food assistance before.”

Credit: Byron Reed
Billie Martinez Elementary second grader, Olive McCue, right.

Olive McCue is a second grader who helped deliver food items to the residents. She said lending a helping hand to neighbors is an important lifelong lesson to learn.

“That they’re not going to starve and that we can help them survive,” McCue said. “We get to help the people that need food and need to be healthy.”

Credit: Byron Reed

“We are teaching them that they have power,” Mitchke added. “It’s very important that we’re instilling those values so then they can go, ‘I struggled through this. This is how our community helped. What can I do next?’”

For more information about the Weld Food Bank, click here: https://weldfoodbank.org/.

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