Food for Thought is expanding its reach to help feed students

For more than a decade, Denver nonprofit Food for Thought has partnered with Metropolitan State University of Denver to feed thousands of K-12 students who don’t get enough to eat at home.

Now, the organization is helping to feed a growing number of food insecure students by picking up the food inventory at Rowdy’s Corner, MSU Denver’s campus food pantry.

“This student population (at MSU Denver) doesn’t typically come from wealth,” said Food for Thought founder Bob Bell. “But they have the ability to perform at university. We started feeding some of the athletes staples to keep them healthy, and then we thought, “What about the rest of the student body?”

RELATED: With inflation rising, more students struggle with food insecurity

Since Bell founded Food for Thought in 2012, MSU Denver has provided space for the nonprofit, which currently operates near the University’s Assembly Athletic Complex. This is where volunteers gather every Friday to pack PowerSacks of takeaway food for students in over 75 local schools. The organization relies entirely on volunteers, including many from MSU Denver, to feed 30,000 school-age children.

Food for Thought also now foots the roughly $60,000 annual bill for stocking Rowdy’s Corner with shelf-stable foods from the Food Bank of the Rockies. Rowdy’s Corner relies on donations to ensure that food is available to students.

“Many students struggle with the cost of living in Denver, including the high cost of groceries and other stressors outside of school,” said Richard Michio, a university administrator who oversees food pantry operations. “Food for Thought has really stepped up to meet a need in college students that many people don’t even know exists.”

MSU Denver’s food bank, Rowdy’s Corner, recently moved to a new, larger space in Tivoli to meet growing demand. Photo by Amanda Schwengel

MSU Denver opened its food bank in 2007 after a student government leader noticed a growing number of students on campus facing poverty and hunger. It was a unique idea and one of the first of its kind in the nation. Last year, amid growing demand, the food bank moved into a significantly larger space under a new name, Rowdy’s Corner.

According to the #RealCollege national survey report released in 2022 by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice at Temple University, 35% of MSU Denver students had experienced food insecurity in the previous 30 days. That means a minimum of 6,000 students need a reliable, free food source.

RELATED: MSU Denver reinvents its food pantry amid growing demand

Bell says the partnership with Rowdy’s Corner is a natural progression of the existing relationship between MSU Denver and his organization.

“When we started Food for Thought, we didn’t have a lot of support or a lot of volunteers,” he said. “From the hospitality majors to the athletes, MSU Denver students were always willing to step in and help. Of course, we wanted to help that population as well.”

MSU Denver student-athletes are regularly among the dozens of volunteers who collect food bags at dawn on Fridays. Nearly 55,000 children from low-income families depend on free and reduced-price meals at school. These meals get them through the week, but some of them don’t see real food again until they go back to school on Monday. With PowerSacks that students take home for the weekend, Food for Thought aims to bridge the gap.

“Every week is different as far as how many student-athletes or teams volunteer because of schedules and roster sizes,” said Allison Salter, assistant athletic director for athletic performance at MSU Denver. “Our women’s tennis team has been there for the past few weeks, for example.”

MSU Denver tennis player Juho Kantola volunteers at Food for Thought
MSU Denver tennis player Juho Kantola volunteers at Food for Thought, filling bags of various foods. Photo by Alison McClaren

During the packing sessions, which usually last until about 9 a.m., volunteers first line up the non-perishable goods they will add to the bags. “They have different lines created based on the number of schools that line will serve,” Salter explained. “A volunteer goes through the line and grabs the designated amount of each item and puts it in the bag.”

Support Rowdy’s Corner on Roadrunner Tuesdays

On November 28th, you can make a difference in the lives of MSU Denver students facing food insecurity by making your gift to Rowdy’s Corner. No student should have to worry about where they will find their next meal. With your support, we can provide food aid to those who need it most.

Volunteers then move the full bags into plastic bins and, when the containers are full, move them into a shipping container for distribution to partner schools. “When we bring food into schools, we feed every student so we don’t stigmatize kids (free and reduced meals),” Bell said. “Each bag contains 12 to 15 non-perishable items and a recipe card, all designed to sustain one child for the weekend.”

All non-perishable items come from the Food Bank of the Rockies, which helps Food for Thought stay within its $5 per bag budget.

With shared values ​​and overlap, the long-standing relationship between MSU Denver and Food for Thought means that some of the current MSU Denver students who benefit from the Rowdy’s Corner partnership also benefited while growing up in public schools in the Denver area. Without a doubt, it’s a relationship meant to last, Bell said.

“MSU Denver has always been there for us,” he said. “And we’re thrilled to be able to help their students.”

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