'Food will come here … no matter what'

Parker food banks prepare for surge, maintain operations


Parker food banks have seen an increase in demand since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Denver area and are preparing for greater demand to come.

Southeast Community Outreach Cares (SECOR) has seen at least 2.5 times more traffic than average at its Parker-based free food market, executive director Dennis Gorton said.

SECOR closed its main entrance to the public, but Gorton said they will never stop serving food.

“Food will come here and we will be a distributor through the coronavirus time period no matter what,” Gorton said.

SECOR volunteers pride themselves on being warm and friendly, but since have had to adjust to no-contact drop-offs and mass packing weekly food kits. Each person who enters the building has his or her temperature taken.

SECOR volunteers bring bags of food out to individuals in their cars and pack a cart-full, about six bags, of food in each person's trunk. Volunteers do not pack items into a person's backseat because it's not six feet away from the driver, Gorton said.

Each cart is about 90% of a family of five's grocery needs for one week. The bags include peanut butter, bread, chips, crackers, rice, beans, cereal, nuts, meat, fruits, vegetables and canned foods. Families with specific food needs can call ahead to request it.

Cars begin lining up at SECOR's free food market, at 17151 Pine Lane in Parker, at about 8 a.m., an hour before it opens. The line eventually reaches the entrance and a Parker police officer patrols the lot during SECOR's hours to make sure cars don't spill onto Pine Lane.

SECOR has served about 300 to 400 people each day it's been open since March 18. SECOR is open Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. On March 25, amid another bustling operation with more than 1,000 family food packages ready to go, Gorton said they may need to start opening on Tuesdays as well. SECOR began serving families every week instead of every two weeks, as it usually does.

“Everything is changing so fast, and it seems to be working,” Gorton said.

SECOR does some deliveries. They made about 35 in one week to certain families. Pet food is available  through a different provider.

Gorton said SECOR has enough volunteers, though he has had to ask volunteers in at-risk groups to stay home. As a result, many newer volunteers, including high school students, have stepped up.

The Parker Task Force is waiting for the big wave as well. As one of the few food banks that also offers financial assistance, Parker Task Force has received a flood of interest from people throughout the Front Range, and volunteer chairman Steve Budnack said it may only be the beginning.

“In the weeks to come, it's going to be dramatically increased,” Budnack said. “We don't know what tomorrow is going to hold. As this thing evolves, we will evolve with it.”

The Parker Task Force provides food and some financial assistance to families living in Parker, Elizabeth or Franktown. Budnack said he has coordinated with the Town of Parker and Parker Police for direction on how the task force can be best utilized.

Parker Task Force has also employed a drop-off system at its location, 19105 Longs Way, trying to stick to its free-choice model as much as possible. People can call from the parking lot for items they need, volunteers will package it and bring it out to them without getting out of their cars. On March 24, Budnack said Parker Task Force served as many people it would normally see in a day in the span of one hour.

Budnack said he is taking every precaution to keep his volunteers safe. In addition to enforcing the social-distancing and no-contact drop-off rules, the building was professionally cleaned.

In the next few weeks, when rent and utility bills are typically due, Budnack expects a wave of phone calls from people throughout Denver.

Parker Task Force encourages donations of food supplies, which can be dropped off at the food bank Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays or Saturdays between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Parker Task Force has no open volunteer opportunities. For more information, visit ParkerTaskForce.org.

“Parker's a special place. Our community has always been supportive of the Parker Task Force in the past 33 years, and I'm confident they'll continue to support us in these times,” Budnack said. “We can't do what we do without them. They continue to support us because they know this is what we're called to do and we'll be here for our community.”


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