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Sarah Johnson loads food into a family’s car on April 22 at Broomfield FISH.
(Jennifer Rios/Staff Writer)
Sarah Johnson loads food into a family’s car on April 22 at Broomfield FISH. (Jennifer Rios/Staff Writer)

A culinary cook-off — with contestants using food from boxes Broomfield FISH gives to clients — capped off this year’s Harvest of Hope.

The Broomfield nonprofit’s traditional luncheon was replaced Thursday evening with a virtual event hosted by Community Engagement Specialist Emily Joo and Karen Steele, a longtime volunteer, board member, past interim executive director and at one point truck driver, emceed the virtual event.

Julia Child, played by BackStory Theatre Executive Director Mary Wilkie, made an appearance and announced Food Operations Specialist Ryan Steele as the winner of the cooking competition, which was put to the attendees as a vote.

Steele prepared a chicken dish while Food Operations Manager Mike Lutz pulled a cold cereal dish from the oven, which he served with a Dr. Pepper poured into a crystal glass.

Joo kicked off the evening thanking the community for all the donations given during the COVID-19 pandemic and explained how help is needed, now more than ever, to help meet the needs of neighbors.

As an essential employee and mother to three boys, she said it would have “broken” her if she had to do endure the pandemic while not knowing if she could feed her babies or know if her family would keep their house.

“We’re seeing double the number of people coming to FISH,” she said. “We serve the most vulnerable — children, seniors and those with a disability and everyone else who has a hungry stomach.”

Depending on family size, 80 to 160 pounds of food goes to families who come to FISH.

She cited a 2018 City and County of Broomfield housing study, which found that 19% of all children in Broomfield live in poverty.

“And that’s why we’re here tonight,” she said.

FISH raised more than $60,000 in donations from the event. The goal was $100,000, Executive Director Dayna Scott said, which she believes they will reach once they add the money from people donating early and from sponsorships.

“Our community is so incredibly generous and compassionate,” she said Friday.

Harvest looks different this year, Steele said, but what remains the same is the community coming together for a fantastic cause.

“Lives have changed,” she said, “but we know we can take lemons and make lemonade.”

Steele said when COVID started, the board talked about cancelling the event, but realized the mission was far too important and the nonprofit needed the community’s help. She was relieved the center was able to keep its doors open and called a Broomfield without FISH “bleak.”

Scott reiterated it has been a hard year, and while they’ve seen so many people struggling with losing jobs, facing health crises and teetering on the edge of homelessness despite all their best efforts, those at FISH have tried to ease that suffering.

The data is staggering, she said, with FISH giving out twice the amount of food since COVID-19 began and giving out five times the amount of direct emergency assistance, mostly for rent. What Scott wanted to focus on was hope, caring and connection.

Pre-pandemic the nonprofit was awarded about $7,000 a month in rental assistance, Scott said; last month they gave out more than $40,000.

“FISH could not have done what we do without the phenomenal community coming together,” she said. “There is nowhere else I would rather be in a crisis or emergency than right here in Broomfield.”

She told the story of one veteran who has lived in Broomfield for 26 years and has survived without a roof over his head for the past 10 years. Those at FISH have known “John” most of that time since he came in for food and occasionally a gas card.

Staff talked to him about resources in the past, but neither he nor FISH were ready to tackle his situation. Since a grant allowed FISH to hire two employees to specifically work on housing issues late last year, they were able to devote the time to help John and about 600 others stabilize or find housing this year.

“If COVID had to hit in 2020, we were so lucky we had some additional staffing to help with that,” Scott said, adding that so many families they serve spend up to 70% of their monthly income on rent or are already homeless.

In May, John met with a housing advocate, developed that relationship and for the first time, FISH employees saw hope in his eyes, Scott said. Together they outlined steps he needed to take, which he followed.

The City and County of Broomfield helped him apply for a Veterans Administrative Supportive Housing program, part of which includes a two-month hotel voucher while he waits for his new home, Scott said.

“He just lights up talking about how he will decorate, what it will mean to sleep in a bed and have his own kitchen,” she said. “It takes hope to survive and to know things will get better.”

As donations came in, Joo talked about each level and what that means for FISH. She explained how $5,000 helps stabilize two families with rent assistance through the Keeping Families Housed program; $2,500 supports the nonprofit’s utilities program for two weeks; $1,000 can feed a family of six for a month and $250 provides a week’s worth of personal care items for families, including toilet paper.

Some people have donated lately in memory of Dr. Samuel Novak, she said, who recently passed away. His wife Elizabeth was one of the original founders of Broomfield FISH, Joo said, and she’s heard he spent hours working alongside her.

FISH board member Ron Lampo, who joined the Zoom call with his daughter Kate, talked about how happy it makes him to see children smile when they receive a box of cereal.

He credited Kate Lampo, who has been on FISH’s Youth Advisory Board the past six years and two years as co-president, as being responsible for the King Soopers card link to Broomfield FISH, which means every time a shopper uses the card a portion goes to the nonprofit.

She talked about her minimum wage job at Qdoba and how during the pandemic there were fears the store would close. Since she is a teen, it wouldn’t have impacted her as greatly as some of her coworkers, who were worried about losing their only source of income.

“They were afraid of losing jobs for weeks, or months,” she said, and had “no idea what they were going to do without it.”

Luckily the store never closed, she said, but plenty of shops in Broomfield did.

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