Free Food Market in Aurora Bridges Gap Between Food Waste and Hunger

By Brian Willie and Amanda Horvath, Rocky Mountain PBS

More Coloradans are in need of food than ever before. Food Bank of the Rockies said during 2020, the need for food in its service areas increased by upwards of 50 percent and some months it climbed as high as 80 percent. Food Connect Colorado is working to bring those numbers down in this one area of the state.

“Aurora is very underserved with free food resources,” said Elizabeth Watts, president of Food Connect Colorado.

Every Thursday and the second Saturday of the month, the nonprofit associated with Food Bank of the Rockies opens its doors to a free food market. It acts just like a grocery store where people can come and choose the food and other items they need.

“That’s what we strive for to have like a normal experience here that people can come in and pick whatever they want,” said Watts. “You don’t pay for anything. Everything is free.”

“Basically, we wouldn’t have food this week. If they didn’t supply food for us this week and what I got last week, we wouldn’t have anything to eat. We’d be eating, probably noodles and beans,” explained Bernadette Johnson.

She is currently on disability with two grandchildren to take care of at home. Her husband is the only one working for the household.

“I can save close to 300 to 400 a month basically coming here because I can limit my meals by getting the fruits and the vegetables, and I can get help with the meat and especially the diapers. ‘Cause the diapers is the biggest, my biggest budget,” said Johnson.

Part of what makes this food option more beneficial than say a prepackaged box is the ability for people to pick out things for their individual needs.

“So, like, if I come twice a month, I’ve already gotten flour already for the month. Then there’s no sense of getting flour again. Somebody else can get flour and it helps someone else,” explained Johnson. “I don’t have to worry about trying to, you know, overstock myself and worry about how I’m going to be able to make it through the rest of the month”

That is part of Food Connect Colorado’s mission. The goal is to dramatically reduce food waste.

“We didn’t pay anything for it. It’s all free. We got it all for free because this is all rescued food that we pick up from various places and bring it to our warehouse. And then we make it available to people who need it,” said Watts.

While the food is offered at no cost, there are some restrictions: A person must make an appointment to visit the market. To be able to shop there someone has to live within certain zip codes and can visit up to twice a month.

Still, Food Connect Colorado hopes to be that bridge for so many who need that extra help to eat.

“Food insecurity is a logistics problem,” said Watts. “It’s mainly just getting that food to the people and that’s what we’re doing. We’re getting the food to the people. We’re taking the food, bringing it here and just making it available to anybody who wants it.”