Pass the compassion

We interrupt your Thanksgiving feast for an uncomfortable discussion about the hunger next door


After 2020’s safely distanced Thanksgiving Day gatherings, large groups of family and friends are reuniting to break bread this week in Boulder. 

We look forward to the hugs, the stuffing and the toasts, but honestly we also fear the potential political discussions around the table.  

As a Thanksgiving Day host, your mission is to subtly guide the event so that everyone leaves still on speaking terms. The host’s job also comes with the responsibility to acknowledge the gorilla sitting in the middle of your festive dining room table. 

It’s hunger and its cousins. 

We’re not talking about feeding people a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal. That’s a nice annual guilt-washing gesture but it doesn’t touch on the pervasive food insecurity encountered daily year-round by your Boulder County neighbors. 

None of us wants to dwell on the damage that malnutrition does to children and families on Thanksgiving. We live in Boulder County, which has developed a stellar reputation as the home of stellar dining, craft brewing, natural foods, and organic farming, but the seasonings are not celestial for everyone who calls this place home. 

A statewide survey conducted by the nonprofit Hunger Free Colorado found that one in three of our neighbors are food insecure, a problem the pandemic continues to make worse. That includes an estimated 15,000 City of Boulder residents who experience some form of food insecurity every month despite increased SNAP food stamp benefits and food bank efforts. Those under the age of 18 and minority and immigrant communities are much more likely to experience it. 

It’s not just the impact food insecurity has on nutrition and wellness in general—the fear of running out of food or being able to serve good meals, not just calories, has been directly linked to feelings of depression, anxiety and lack of dignity. Just ask anyone who has had to swallow their pride and visit a food bank in the past two years. 

We may passionately argue about other social, religious and political issues, but can we agree that nobody deserves to experience this, no matter their zip code? When so many suffer this kind of damage, it makes you wonder whether Boulder, Longmont, Lafayette, or Louisville really are the much-touted best places to live in the U.S.A. 

On Thanksgiving, I ask the hosts at feasts and gatherings to do something brave. When your guests finally sit down and quiet down and you have your moment of welcome, grace, or meditation, take a moment to tell them about hunger and to pass a hat—literally. Ask your guests to each donate $5 (or $10 or more) to be donated tomorrow to a nonprofit organization feeding folks in Boulder County. 

With rising food prices, a shortage of truckers, and supply chain crises, local food banks will accept the dusty cans of Great Northern beans from your pantry, but what they need, because of the scale of the problem, is cash.  

Suggest to your guests it’s a service fee for living in paradise or a compassion tithe. Accept checks, debit cards, Apple Pay and Bitcoin, if you like. Remind anxious-to-dine friends and family that the money isn’t going to aid national or statewide programs for people they will never see, but rather those families in cars they see at stoplights on Arapahoe Avenue.

The sheer number of these reputable nonprofits should clue you in to the scope of this community problem as another pandemic winter ensues. Beside cash, all of these organizations welcome volunteers.

Harvest of Hope Pantry: This organization solely focuses on maintaining a Boulderfood pantry that serves everyone who comes to the door, including residents without kitchens.

EFAA: Emergency Family Assistance Association helps families with housing, transportation and hunger issues and maintains a North Boulder food bank.

Community Food Share: The Boulder-born non-profit is the single largest source of food for agencies throughout Boulder County with mobile and on-site pantries and programs for seniors.

Boulder Food Rescue: The organization collects soon-to-expire or overstocked food and produce from more than 20 Boulder supermarkets primarily by bicycle and distributes them to low-income housing, pantries, senior community centers and other sites organized by the residents. 

Sr. Carmen Community Center: This non-religious, nonprofit organization aids vulnerable residents with basic services and resources including a large food pantry serving Lafayette, Louisville, Superior, and Erie.

Meals on Wheels: Open since 1969, Meals on Wheels delivers nutritious meals to vulnerable Boulder seniors five days a week along with a reassuring wellness check.

Feed the Stampede: Yes, there is a food insecurity problem at the University of Colorado Boulder, too. According to a recent national survey, 38 percent of students at four-year institutions face food insecurity. The Feed the Stampede on-campus pantry and mobile pantry have distributed more than 218,000 pounds to students.

As you go through this holiday season, party hosts can continue this soul-gratifying tradition. When your guests ask: “Is there anything I can bring?” respond by saying: “Yes, cash.”

Words to chew on

“If you’re not worrying about how to put food on your table, you [should be] worrying about why other people don’t have food on their table.”—Cher

John Lehndorff hosts a call-in version of Radio Nibbles Thanksgiving Day at 8 a.m. on KGNU (88.5 FM, streaming on to answer listeners’ last minute feast cooking questions.

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