BANKING ON KINDNESS: Aurora Mini Food Banks have a big mission

AURORA | For Sandy Rothman, the elixir of life is a Volvo S60 full of spaghetti sauce and canned green beans.

“When I take care of my pantry, I feel like 20 years old again,” says 75-year-old Rothman with a chuckle. “I’m learning something new, I’m doing something I love and it’s just a really nice feeling. Then when I try to get in my car I realize that I’m 75 and there is a difference. “

For the past two years, Rothman has been the quiet, driving force behind a free pantry at the Martin Luther King Jr. Library on East Colfax Avenue.

The humble wooden box was drawn by the Aurora Gateway Rotary Foundation and provides 24/7 access to free canned food, hygiene products, and the occasional fresh produce.

The so-called “little free pantry” is mostly stocked by Rothman, who makes a weekly pilgrimage to SECOR Cares, a free market in Parker that holds thousands of pounds of groceries from the Food Bank of the Rockies. Rothman, a retired New Jersey electrician, spends about two hours shopping the SECOR aisles and loading his black Volvo with several hundred pounds of groceries.

“I fill up my car as much as I can, put it in the back seat and take it from there,” he said in a recent telephone interview.

With the help of two volunteers, he dumps the loot in a garage in Aurora before taking the maggot to the grocery cupboard four times a week.

“We put food in and it’s gone at the end of the day or sooner,” said Rothman.

Last Tuesday, Rothman filled the box with pretzels, Kraft macaroni and cheese, as well as the hugely popular peanut butter. He said people are being encouraged to refill the pantry after mopping up, even though the system has not yet fully reached equilibrium.

“People are walking a bit, but on the whole it’s not much,” he said.

Last month, Rothman and the Aurora Rotary opened a second free pantry at the District 2 Fire Station in Hoffman Heights. Just like the first food container, the blue and gold structure was erected one afternoon in early February with the help of a local Boy Scout troop.

“They got what they needed for a badge and we used the back,” said Rothman with a grin.

The cost of building the box on the west side of the fire station and the ongoing cost of hauling groceries through the subway are covered by a $ 3,000 grant from the Aurora Gateway Rotary Foundation.

Modeled after the ubiquitous Little Free Libraries, the pantries in Aurora were designed after a Rotarian saw a YouTube video describing the project several years ago, Rothman said.

The new pantry in Hoffman Heights is not yet as popular as its companion in the north, Rothman said, although its optimistic warmer weather will bring more people to the adjacent basketball court and thus to the edible vessel.

“So far, the neighborhood knows that I don’t think is here,” he said. “So they are not participating in what we have, but they will. When the weather changes and kids come to the basketball courts, they will see it is there and get the word out. “

Rothman worked with the city for months to get permission to place the box in Hoffman Heights. Originally, city officials planned to set up the pantry near Aurora downtown, but Rothman said he thought the goods would be of greater use to residents near the Del Mar district. He met many residents of the region through his participation in an annual charity event where free vaccinations are offered at the fire station.

“If they need recordings, we thought they might need something to eat, too,” he said.

Around 10 percent of Colorado’s residents and 16 percent of the state’s children have no access to food and are regularly malnourished, according to nationwide data from the federal government.

In Arapahoe County, nearly 50,000 people are eligible for Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, although more than 30,000 additional people are eligible for this assistance. This is based on data compiled as part of a nationwide campaign against hunger funded by the Colorado Health Foundation.

And while the Hoffman Heights neighborhood isn’t technically classified as a food desert or a low-income area more than a mile from a grocery store, much of the Adams County portion of the city is less than a mile from the new pantry Food desert status according to the US Department of Agriculture.

If any of the free pantries grew in popularity, Rothman would consider filling the boxes up to six times a week.

“Hopefully we can finally make it into five or six days,” he said. “… it’s a wonderful thing.”

People interested in donating or interested in learning more about the small free pantries are invited to send an email [email protected]

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