Elephant Talk

By Kristin Pazulski

Photography by Adrian DiUbaldo

At the request of a friend, two years ago Randy Harris visited a church food pantry in Denver’s Villa Park neighborhood, just west of Federal and south of Colfax. A few loaves of bread and canned goods sat on the shelves. A girl came to the church with her father. She was irritable and grumpy; the reason, her father explained, was she hadn’t eaten in three days. They took their bread and cans of vegetables and went home.

Harris was horrified not only that she hadn’t eaten in three days, but also by the quality of the food they left with. When Harris asked the church why there was a lack of fresh food, he learned that they didn’t have the money to buy much more and donations from food drives are focused on canned and boxed non-perishables.

 Harris, a former corporate and government research consultant, started looking at Colorado’s current food pantry services. What he found, he says, is an unorganized business model, with scattered pantries full of well-intentioned people, but not much food. In his mind, why not pool the services?

“There’s plenty of food. We’re trying to parse it out to way too many places,” Harris said.

So he decided to do what he could himself. In his Mercury Marquis, he went to supermarkets and began buying vegetables and fresh bread for pantries. That effort expanded to a rental truck, and he made connections with local grocers and wholesalers. Now, with two trucks, he and his wife, Sanda Harris, pick up fresh donated items, like milk and bread, and deliver the food to six or seven pantries per week.

Harris provides 5,000-10,000 pounds of food per week, much of it fruits and vegetables, to one of the larger pantries, Metro CareRing. Through all his work with the pantries, a dream has developed in Harris’ mind—what has been dubbed a “superpantry,” basically a large supermarket-like pantry, where people can grab carts and pick out their own food. He foresees the superpantry stocked with enough food, including meat, dairy and fresh produce, to feed 500 to 1,000 families for free, no strings attached.

Ryan Galanaugh, food resources director at Metro CareRing, shares the dream.

Metro CareRing recently purchased a large empty lot behind its current building on 18th Avenue and Downing Street, and while the money still needs to be raised to pay off the purchase and build on the land, the lot was attained with the intention of turning it into a large pantry, hopefully by 2014, to feed people like the little girl Harris met that started it all.  •