Pantry keeps South students fed during tough time

Facility moves to temporary location to continue operations during pandemic


On a typical Thursday after school, Room 142 in Denver South High School, 1700 E. Louisiana Ave., would be bustling with students shopping for groceries.

Then COVID-19 forced schools to close.

“But closing our food pantry was not an option because a lot of families depend on us to supplement their food supply,” said Jaclyn Yelich, who co-founded the South High School Food Pantry with her husband Greg Thielen. “So we packed up and moved the entire pantry to a temporary location.”

The South High School Food Pantry got its start about 5 1/2 years ago. It is a full service, choice model food pantry similar to a mini grocery store, run completely by volunteers.

Once the announcement came that school buildings would close, South High School Food Pantry volunteers had 48 hours to move about 6,000 pounds of food and personal hygiene items, Yelich said.

Their first stop was Washington Park United Methodist Church. Nearby freezer space was provided by Roth Distributing Co. Operating from the church, on March 24, about 20 volunteers packed and delivered food to 55 South High School families — traveling as far as the Montbello neighborhood and all around Denver's south and west neighborhoods.

However, because the food pantry offers items that need refrigeration, such as dairy products and meats, along with fresh fruits and vegetables and shelf-stable foods, onsite refrigeration was needed.

Everything was packed up again and moved to another temporary location, which has been disclosed to all South High School families — with refrigeration and a loading dock — where the South High School Food Pantry will operate through a combination of pickup and delivery with strict distancing measures every Thursday until at least the end of July.

“We are back in business,” Yelich said. “Now we know for sure we can continue to provide healthy, nutritious food to our families on a weekly basis.”

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the South High School Food Pantry was serving upwards of 130 students each week, not counting the parent shopping day offered on a Saturday once a month. Students shopping on Thursdays were able to take food home for the weekend, or an entire week's worth of food for themselves and their family, Yelich said.

About 1,600 students attend South High School, which is a choice school so the students come from all over the metro area, Yelich said. The school also boasts its Newcomer Center, which serves English language learners new to the country.

Cecilia “Cici” Favetto has been involved with the food pantry for about two years, which is when she and her family moved to Denver. Originally from Argentina, Favetto is bilingual and, along with many other tasks, helps with translation and communication with Spanish-speaking families.

“Getting to know the families is very rewarding. Everybody who goes to the food pantry are very respectful, gracious and grateful,” Favetto said. “COVID-19 has impacted all of us. Being able to keep on supporting the families has made a difference.”

Cindy Piggott, who has also been volunteering with the South High School Food Pantry for about two years, agreed.

“It's a great project with a pure mission,” Piggott said of Yelich's and Thielen's efforts with the South High School Food Pantry. “Every day you're there, you're making a difference in somebody's life.”

About 50 volunteers make the South High School Food Pantry happen. They consist of students, parents, teachers, retirees and other community members, Yelich said.

The South High School Food Pantry is an important amenity to so many people, Yelich said, that it needed to be able to continue its operations during this unprecedented time.

“Our vision is to make sure none of the kids or their family members go to bed hungry,” Thielen said. “We will continue to provide our families with the healthy, nutritious food they deserve during these challenging times.”


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