Food totes provide health and hope for Colorado kids, families
The Totes of Hope program from Food Bank of the Rockies provides 20,000 totes a month to kids in communities around the state.
COLORADO, USA — More than 184,000 kids around Colorado will struggle with food insecurity this year, especially on the weekends when they are out of school.
But a program through the Food Bank of the Rockies – a partner in the 39th annual 9Cares Colorado Shares food drive – is spreading hope in a tote that kids carry home over the weekend.
Every month, the Totes of Hope program provides carry-home totes to any school-aged child. It’s a bag full of 6 to 8 pounds of nutritious food that provides five to seven meals and only costs the food bank $5.
“The program is all funded through donations and comes at no cost to our community partners,” said Food for Kids Manager Tami Anderson, a registered dietician and nutritionist with Food Bank of the Rockies. “We work with 50-plus community partners who come every Friday to pick up the food.”
Every child who is in school is eligible for a weekend bag. It costs the food bank only $5 to pack the totes full of nutritious food items for the weekend.
“Each bag contains food for five to seven meals, and we’re in the highest need months right now. We give out 20,000 totes a month during the school year,” Anderson said. “We make sure the food offered is nutrient-rich.”
>> Watch video above: 9Cares Colorado Shares supports summer food program for kids
The food bank makes sure the food items assembled in the totes come packed with purpose – not just boxed, canned food or empty calories. Staff makes sure to pack the five main food groups into each bag: fruits, vegetables, protein-like beans that are also shelf stable, milk and grains.
The food that’s included in the weekend food totes is also shelf-storage, because many partner organizations don’t have refrigeration.
Fresh produce is bagged for partners who have refrigerators to store fruits and vegetables that are donated weekly from Walmart.
“When they take food back to their locations and bag it, we have to make sure that it’s safe,” Anderson said. “We also try to make the totes kid and family friendly – making sure that the items aren’t too heavy because they will be carrying them home or a family member is helping them carry it home. So we try to make sure it’s not too heavy.”
An 8-year-old Denver student said she has three siblings and the food they receive in the totes helps them make meals at home together.
“My sister goes to school here, too, and we both get a tote so we can make enough for all of us. We love the food!” she said.
Community partners of the program do all the advertising and marketing to their communities because they know them best.
“Our partners have provided us with culturally responsive recipes. We added black bean quesadillas and cornbread to the menu, types of items popular in the Latino and Hispanic communities,” Anderson said.
Not only are the bags stuffed with meals, but they also include easy-to-follow recipe cards featuring ingredients in the bag. The cards come in English and Spanish that kids can understand and put together on their own.
The program runs on an eight-week menu, cycling through the weeks so they can food source from local partners and make orders to ensure foods are in stock.
“It helps our community members know what they will receive and provide some structure,” Anderson said. “We also added breakfast items. Up until this school year we didn’t provide breakfast. Now they get two days of breakfast that includes oatmeal, packets of milk and even waffles and syrup.”
Sandy Stewart is the Totes of Hope coordinator at Denver Green School. She said the tote program fills a need in their community.
“We try to make sure we’re sending kids home with enough food for their whole family. A lot of people need food right now, and I feel that it is our ethical obligation to help feed them,” she said.
The food bank is looking forward to running an official survey at the end of the year and into January that will ask their community partners to survey their communities.
“We really want to hear from those receiving the totes,” Anderson said. “We want to hear what types of future recipes they might like to see so that we can include those items on the menus for next year.”
Food Bank of the Rockies is currently distributing enough food to provide more than 180,000 meals per day. So far in 2021, the organization has distributed more than 73 million pounds of food, the equivalent of over 60 million meals. A $1 donation to Food Bank of the Rockies will provide four meals.