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A free food market in Aurora has to close until it finds a new space

Food Connect Colorado serves as a free food market for parts of Aurora and Montbello. Now, they must temporarily close until they find a new space.

AURORA, Colo. — When Elizabeth Watts and Toby Levy first started Food Connect Colorado, it was as simple as handing out boxes of food at Delmar Park in Aurora. 

"And so then we were handing out 144 boxes every week on Thursday. Cars would drive up and we would put the boxes in their trunk," Levy, who is Food Connect Colorado's vice president, said.

Last year, they moved into a warehouse space in Aurora. 

In total so far, they estimate they've given out about 150,000 pounds of food to hundreds of families in need, for free.

"Our mission is to share reclaimed food with people in need in our local community, because we want to feed people, not landfills," Levy said. 

Now a partner agency with Food Bank of the Rockies, they receive a majority of food from there, in addition to several other organizations and stores. 

There are no income requirements, but customers must live in Montbello, certain parts of Aurora or Green Valley Ranch. Appointments are required, and shoppers must provide a photo ID and proof of residency.

"They are spending so much money on rent that they need anything they can do to save money," said Watts, who is president of the organization, referring to the customers they serve. "We have a lot of seniors who don't work anymore, can't work. We have a lot of people on disability who cannot work. We have several grandparents who are raising their grandchildren, which was not planned. And so they are in need of any help they can get."

Soon, though, the nonprofit will have to put things on hold. 

At the end of April, the organization will take everything from their small warehouse space in Aurora and put it in storage.

Until they can find a new space, they'll be temporarily closed. 

Credit: Luis de Leon
Toby Levy, Vice President of Food Connect Colorado, guides Daniela Egas, who is at the market for her family for the first time.

Requirements, and rent

Watts and Levy said rent was going to be raised by about $500 a month, which played some role in the decision to move. 

"That doesn't sound like a lot, but for a nonprofit that is quite a bit, because we really operate on a shoestring budget here. And so when the rent goes up that much, it's not helpful for our situation," Levy said. 

But more than that, summer temperatures are quickly approaching, and there's no air conditioning at the current space. 

"And as you can see, it's just a bare warehouse space, and there's no air conditioning and it's very hot in here in the summer. And to be a partner agency with Food Bank of the Rockies, we have to meet some standards for food storage, and we will not be able to meet that standard without air conditioning. So we need air conditioning," Watts said. 

They also hope to find a space with more parking spaces, as they are limited to just four for now. 

They also hope to stay close to the community they primarily serve.

So far, they've not had any luck finding a space, Watts said. 

"There's just nothing available. It's not even a question of cost. I mean, there's just nothing out there because we have such specific requirements," she said. 

They said they're concerned about how long they will be closed, especially since they've been seeing higher demand.

"Couple of months ago we would have produce left over at the end of the day. That doesn't happen anymore. There's basically nothing left over at the end of the day because people are needing more food. It's more expensive at the grocery store," Levy said. 

Credit: Luis de Leon
Toby Levy, Vice President of Food Connect Colorado, guides a family through the food market.

A greater need

Levy shared an embrace Thursday morning with one customer who has become a regular -- a sign of the close-knit community recently formed through the nonprofit.

"We have families, large families with up to eight people in the family. We have single people that come in and we also have diapers that are available because we partner with WeeCycle," Levy said. 

Daniela Egas was shopping for her family, a husband and daughter. 

Egas said her family came to the United States from Ecuador, and recently they had been struggling financially.

“Especially this last year, because the money is not enough," she said, saying the market had been very helpful for her. 

"You need to pay the rent, you need to buy groceries, you need to pay something for the kids, and actually the money is not enough," she said. “We’re trying to survive, and I think I’m not the only one. I think it’s more people like me, like my family."

The last time Food Connect Colorado will operate out of its current space in Aurora will be April 28. 

The following day, their items will go into storage until they find a new home. 

Determined, they hope to do so soon.

"We know there's a need in this community," Levy said. 

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