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App founded in Denver helps battle food insecurity

Fresh Food Connect gives people who grow produce in their backyard an easy way to donate extra fruits and veggies to local hunger relief organizations.

DENVER — Hunger relief organizations in Colorado are diversifying how they get their fresh produce thanks to an app founded in the same city.

Fresh Food Connect is an app that connects people who grow produce in their backyard to hunger relief organizations. Backyard gardeners download the app, grow their produce, and the closest hunger relief partner comes to pick up their excess fruits and vegetables.

The app was founded in 2016 as a pilot program in Denver. It now has 45 hunger relief partners in 17 states. Twenty of them are in Colorado.

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Denver Food Rescue is one of the organizations that partners with the app. The nonprofit wanted to make sure they had multiple ways to get access to food to help those in need.

"Denver Food Rescue otherwise would go out and rescue food that would otherwise go to waste from wholesale distributors or grocery stores," Executive Director Christine Alford said. "We're recognizing that's not going to be the end all, be all to making sure we are battling food insecurity within Denver neighborhoods." 

Alford said Denver Food Rescue connected with 229 Fresh Food Connect growers in 2020. That resulted in 3,500 pounds of food being rescued and distributed in the Five Points neighborhood that year. Alford said 80 unduplicated families received fresh produce each week because of those backyard gardeners. 

Alford explained it felt like their best year yet, despite the rising food insecurity due to the pandemic.

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"Last year like everyone, we all had to pivot and figure out what sustainability looked like for our organization and the different programs and community to make sure they had helpful, nutritious food that is needed," Alford said. "I think that a lot of people had more time on their hands and wanted to be outside and in their backyards."

Denver Food Rescue said the app also helped the community connect with one another, especially during the pandemic. Alford said much of the produce collected from backyard growers went to their neighbors. She said the program has helped them put "neighbor back in neighborhood."

"Community always has resiliency," Alford said. "I think just thinking about the different pillars and different opportunities that some people may have had and others didn't, just really looking at shared resources and relationships that were built, the connections that were built. And some trauma and healing that we were able to do for connecting these people and really having those real relationships being a part of that."

Denver Food Rescue hopes to build up their Fresh Food Connect program this year. The organization plans to hold a gardener meet and greet on June 26. 

Denver Food Rescue will also hire two additional employees to go pick up growers' extra produce, bringing the total number to four. The nonprofit hires teens to fill those positions through its youth employment program. 

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