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Overseeing outreach programs that feed more than 25,000 people each year, John Ellis knows there’s a lot of need in the Greeley and Weld County area.

“People can’t afford to go out and spend $100 on a turkey and all the fixings and that kind of stuff,” he said. “So when we’re able to help them with that, some of those people are just smiling ear to ear, thanking you the entire time. …

“It’s been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done in my life being able to help people when they’re in a rough spot and to see the happiness and joy when you help somebody out.”

For about four years, Ellis has run Living Grace Baptist Church’s Lighthouse Community Center and Food Pantry, 4800 Hill N Park Drive. The center, which operates a food pantry three times per week including a hot meal once per week, is one of 42 agencies working with the Weld Food Bank to provide holiday meals to people in need.

Weld Food Bank staff hope to collect more than 5,500 turkeys this year so agencies like Lighthouse can provide delicious holiday meals and find some comfort and joy on Thanksgiving and Christmas. The food bank will host its Hope for the Holidays Food Drive from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 18, collecting turkeys and fixings at 13 locations.

We’ve seen the need continuously go up month by month,” said Weston Edmunds, communications manager for the food bank. “We have a lot of people who are hurting and in need in our community. But I continue to be amazed even as you fight feelings of exhaustion and you see all around you compassion fatigue, that there’s still so many caring people in our community.”

Participating locations include the food bank, Sam’s Club in Evans, any King Soopers in Greeley, as well as King Soopers stores in Windsor, Erie and Firestone, both Walmarts in Greeley, both Safeways in Greeley and the Safeway in Windsor.

Eva Puhl loads her car with food while outside the Weld County Food Bank in Greeley March 10, 2023. The local food bank has seen an 83% increase in new families in the past year. (Jim Rydbom/Staff Photographer)
Eva Puhl loads her car with food while outside the Weld County Food Bank in Greeley March 10, 2023. The local food bank has seen an 83% increase in new families in the past year. (Jim Rydbom/Staff Photographer)

In 2022, the food bank set a goal of collecting 4,500 turkeys — a goal the community exceeded by about 500. Food bank staff hope the community will again exceed the goal as they continue to see record numbers of people turning to the food bank for support.

Edmunds said twice as many people are turning to the food bank for help this year compared to 2022. Staff anticipate a large influx of people at the food bank’s monthly Saturday distribution this weekend. Regular food distribution increases about 20-30% during the holidays, Edmunds said.

“What parent doesn’t want to give their child something for the holidays?” Edmunds asked. “And so what little money they do have, they’re trying to give gifts and buy regular food on top of that. … I feel like we see a lot more people in November and December partly because of that need but also just that people want to provide that holiday meal for their kids.”

In addition to the food drive this Saturday, turkeys can be dropped off at the food bank at 1108 H St. in Greeley from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday. Wing Shack also accepts turkey donations for local food banks through Nov. 22, awarding donors a $5 Wing Shack gift card and a $5 donation to the donor’s local food bank.

Weld Food Bank Chief Development Officer Stephanie Gausch said the food bank continues to see more new households accessing the food bank.

“They are folks who are living above the poverty line, but they’re below that level of self-sufficiency,” she said. “So there are a lot of folks … where a $500 medical bill or car repair or whatever all of a sudden becomes a crisis situation, and you find yourself in need of help.”

The Lighthouse Community Center serves people from all over Weld County, including people in Greeley, the Milliken and Johnstown area and many people in the Hill N Park subdivision outside Greeley and Evans borders — where quite a few families are struggling to get by, according to Ellis.

By partnering with the food bank — “a priceless resource,” Ellis said — Lighthouse provides holiday meals for those in need. This year, Lighthouse will also continue working with a local dialysis clinic to provide meals for clients.

“Partnering with them was a no-brainer to me,” he said. “When you’re on dialysis, this may be your last holiday season that you are around for, so if we can help and bring your family together that one last time for that one last holiday you’re going to have to spend with them, that’s just priceless.”

The food bank will also collect shelf-stable food items for the holidays, particularly stuffing, canned green beans, canned corn, canned fruit, peanut butter and canned tuna or chicken. For those unable to donate food items, the food bank accepts financial donations, promising to provide 75 meals to families in need for every $25 donation.

For more information about holiday giving to the food bank, go to weldfoodbank.org/holiday.

The food bank also continues to need volunteers for its day-to-day operations. Staff hope those who can lend a hand around the holidays will find a way to continue that assistance. Edmunds estimated the food bank needs about 100 volunteers each day to operate efficiently.

“This is by far my favorite time of the year because you get to see such a tangible representation of community,” Gausch said. “And it’s just so nice to be able to see all of your neighbors coming together and helping one another.”

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