T.At an Aurora food bank and community center, Dr. Ben Carson demonstrated how annoying it can be when good things come from bad.
The idiosyncratic US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development visited the Aurora Interfaith Community Services agency’s grocery and clothing bank just off East Colfax Avenue on Friday. The venerable coalition of around 30 churches and an army of volunteers has been distributing food, clothing, aid and cheerful compassion in the city since 1968.
Since the March pandemic hit Aurora, they have become a major food source in the city. A cooperation between Interfaith and the city now hands over food worth five days to around 500 families per week in new mobile food banks. Every week, Interfaith and Aurora, supported by strong regional sponsors and dedicated helpers, roll to high schools in the area and pile free groceries into the cars of everyone who needs groceries. No questions asked.
That’s a lot of people right now, says Christina Stimson, Executive Director of Interfaith. In addition to handing out groceries for around 2,000 meals a week, the center sees a steady stream of people who are out of work or out of luck stopping by the center near Colfax.
On Friday, volunteers sorted and unloaded food and clothing for the operation, about the size of a small town grocery and dry goods store.
Carson was packing plastic bags next to volunteers, wondering how much food people could get from the service. In that thoughtful way that Carson perfected, he pondered whether people should get a fee for the food.
“And all of these clothes are free?” he asked while touring a virtual department store filled with all kinds of clothes.
Almost all of the clothing comes from donations. Some of the food is donated by the community, but most of it comes from the Food Bank of the Rockies and other agencies like We Don’t Waste, Secor Cares, the Colorado Pet Pantry, the Aurora Animal Shelter, and even Aurora Water.
The money for the growing number of massive grocery purchases for programs like this comes from what President Trump is touting as the largest aid package in the country’s history. More than $ 12 billion was earmarked for HUD. Of this, Denver and Aurora have received approximately $ 20 million in direct funding to date.
Stimson stated that the Federal CARES Act money is critical to their ability to roll grocery bags to the curb on Clinton Street or to walk them through car windows during weekly handouts.
“So what happens after the need passes?” Carson wondered, pointing to the big and solid AICS operation.
Passes? Later, when he hit the comment, he didn’t seem connected that this neighborhood and organization had a long, long history of people in dire need of food and which it generously provided.
For months before the pandemic, food security lawyers and homeless people were sounding the alarm. The cost of living and stagnating wages in the metropolitan area made for a perfect storm. The pandemic has simply blown the cover of an already looming disaster.
In response, Carson said he saw that with the pandemic crisis waning, there needs to be “sustained” efforts to help people after the virus threat subsides and disappears, and the problems do not.
This may sound simple, but the idea of sustainable aid to sick Americans is fairly new to the government, especially them. The Trump administration has always created the impression that problems like hunger and homelessness are pretty much a one-time dilemma, rather than perpetual wetlands. Perhaps even that administration has realized that America has serious poverty problems that the virus will not go away with when warehouses are filled with food and long lines of people are desperately waiting for it.
It is not dissimilar to the fact that police brutality and abuse of black Americans by law enforcement agencies in Colorado and across the country has been an extremely serious problem for generations.
It could be the pandemic that, in addition to the horrific video about the murder of George Floyd, inspired Colorado to push through police reforms that were unthinkable just a few days ago. The nation seems ready to do the same at the federal level. Despite the grief and agony caused by protests from Floyd’s murder and the ensuing tsunami, real, lasting change is now possible, and even likely.
Just a few months ago, similar screams of fear about the gruesome death of Elijah McClain by the Aurora police never made it beyond the city limits. This week the whole nation learned of the tragedy. The city’s legislators, who previously thought nervously about the disaster, are now calling for answers and changes.
Sure, there is still a long way to go. When I pointed out to Carson that local supporters of the oppressed were petrified of mass homelessness after Colorado law failed to keep evictions in check beyond June, Carson said the answer there couldn’t come from just the federal government.
It will require a joint effort from the federal, state and local governments, he said. However, the last two have no money. This perfect storm is taking shape because most rental properties are businesses and non-income businesses are just hobbies. Few people or companies can be hobby landlords. However, empty houses and apartments do not pay rent. It seems like federal rent payment programs for the unemployed are a win-win proposition due to the pandemic.
We didn’t get there because Carson had to move on.
However, he saw these problems as solvable and even as an opportunity.
When asked whether he viewed President Trump’s insistence on holding a campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla, on June 19 as poor visuals or insensitive, he quickly countered.
“I see it as an opportunity” for the president to show how a healing economy can heal a sick nation.
I don’t see it yet. But steadfast critics of the distribution of food to the needy just because they say they are needy are packing food for them. And die-hard opponents of major police reform advocate it late on the floor of the State House.
I am open to the fact that bleachers with MAGA-capped Trump fans – who saw protests only as racial riots – will fill the hearts of minorities in Tulsa and across the country who have not yet been very impressed.
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