By Bernadette Marquez, Title I Family Engagement/Diversity Liaison at Foothills Elementary
It is with great delight and a joyful spirit that I am able to tell the Lakewood Connects Team and their supporters about the good work happening within the heart of the Green Mountain Community that serves the students and families of ALL of the Green Mountain Articulation Area Schools.
The HUB at Foothills Foodies is the brainchild of both Diana Baumgarten (Foothills Elementary School Social Worker) and myself, Bernadette Marquez (Title I Family Engagement/Diversity Liaison). It came about by Diana and I linking arm in arm and combining both of our passion projects into one.
Initially both Diana and I had different but similar projects that we were working on within Foothills Elementary to serve students that we recognized would benefit from supplemental resources that we ourselves could extend through partnerships we had built with community partners. You see, Diana had been serving as the school Social Worker for many years and had seen how underserved Foothills Families were and that many of our families did not always having enough money to buy food. She established a weekend backpack program that she soon realized didn’t meet the unique needs of the families it served. In comes me… when I arrived on the scene at Foothills in the fall of 2017 in my role as Family Engagement Liaison, I came with very wet feet and an eager heart to serve underprivileged families by providing them with the wealth of tools that I had been afforded to have at my fingertips.
Jump ahead one school year…the fall of 2018 and the story of how our interests and commonalities came together… it was due to Mr. Reg Cox, who on the outside looking in envisioned the power of the two of us forming one objective…which is to ensure that ALL students have equal access to food, clothing, and opportunities. It was our mission to eradicate the barriers that stood between them and their education. It was truly a match made in heaven! Something that we both would have never imagined without the prompting of Reg Cox.
After Diana and I met with Reg we embarked on a full-on marathon to bring our dream into fruition. She and I went on an adventure to scope out other schools that serve as Hubs to see what their set-up looked like, we interviewed the teams responsible for starting their individual programs and we sat down and evaluated our very unique Green Mountain population, and devised a plan that we both believed would best serve the most underserved demographic of students and families in and around Foothills Elementary.
Based upon what we observed worked and didn’t work in the school-based Hubs we visited, we recognized that one thing rang true for all of them… Partnerships, Partnerships, Partnerships! It was imperative to establish partnerships with our sister schools, community agencies, religious organizations, grocers, and of course the most important component the stakeholders themselves… our Foothills families.
Thanks to Lakewood Connects, the first partnership we established was with Concordia Lutheran Church (CLC). We met with Donna Miller who is a very active member of CLC and now our Volunteer Coordinator. She spread the word at church and launched our first food drive. It was a great success which gave us so much inspiration to reach out to The Action Center, our neighborhood Safeway Store, all six of the Green Mountain Articulation schools, and our Foothills PTA. Have you ever seen how fast a wildfire ignites and spreads? That was 100% how quickly the good news spread and how rapidly we were able to form and secure partnerships and launch our supplemental food program which we fittingly decided to name Foothills Foodies.
Being that Diana had previously established the weekend backpack program in one of the temporary buildings in the back of the school, we had a space to store and distribute food. Our vision of how food would be distributed was what makes our program very distinct. It was of the utmost importance that families had a dignified experience at Foothills Foodies. Overall, we wanted families to come in and have a shopping experience where they have the ability to select their own food and how we accomplished this was by modeling our program after The Action Center’s 7-day supplemental food program. Instead of a 7-day supply of supplemental food, Foothills Foodies supplies 3-days of supplemental food to see our families through the weekend. Families came in and shopped with the assistance of a form that guided them through their shopping trip. Families selected how many family members in their household and then checked off the allotted items including proteins, fruits, veggies, grains etc. In addition, it was very important to us important that families had access to not only non-perishable food items but also fresh items such as milk, eggs, meat, and fresh fruits and veggies. Through our established partnerships we secured refrigerators and a freezer to store the fresh food that was donated or provided by Safeway, The Action Center, and private donors. It truly was a beautiful whirlwind of vision, humanity, collaboration and loves labor that founded Foothills Foodies!
Spring forward to the fall of 2019…
Diana and I were so amazed and ignited by the results of our previous years work, that we did not want to resolve what we had initially envisioned as sufficient. We had lofty aspirations that still hadn’t come to pass. Beyond just providing food we truly wanted to offer wrap-around services which included providing families access to hygiene products, household items, clothing, and shoes. So began our partnership with A Precious Child. Foothills became a full functioning HUB when we officially became a satellite boutique for A Precious Child who provide clothing, coats, shoes, toiletries, home goods, and basic essentials to our Foothills families. We then extended these services to all Green Mountain Schools students and families. With that, a move to a larger and more adequate space on the Foothills Elementary campus, a name change and a Re-Grand Opening!
The HUB at Foothills Foodies now has the capacity to serve over 1500 families within the articulation area. The HUB at this time is 100% sufficient, relying solely on donations of money, food, and volunteer hours and is recognized as a Health and Human Services Academy Career Pathway for Foothills Students that choose to participate. Again, the mold was broken when The HUB at Foothills Foodies became an option as an extracurricular course for students to participate in the distribution of the necessities offered through the HUB. In fact, Foothills Elementary was recognized by the Colorado Department of Education for providing such innovative courses in the statewide 2019 Promising Partnership Practices publication with recognition from Governor Polis, Mayor Adam Paul, and Jeffco Public School Board Members. Channel 7 and Channel 4 featured the HUB at Foothills Foodies on their newscasts and the Lakewood Sentinel shared with its readers about the resources offered to the community through this truly amazing collaborative.
So, this is how a dream, true collaboration and a labor of love looks like in its most genuine form. I would like to extend an invitation to anyone who wants to financially contribute to the Hub or help out in any way. Contact Reg Cox and he will get those funds to and connect potential volunteers to support us at the HUB at Foothills Foodies. Please feel free to come by the HUB to see it for yourself! It is a sight for sore eyes and will lift your spirits above and beyond what you’d ever expect.