By Danielle Krolewicz
August 31 was the last day for services at non-profit Denver Urban Matters. After 34 years of serving the Denver community, DenUM, which was primarily a food bank, closed its doors. Founded in 1984, the non-profit moved into its most recent home at 1717 E. Colfax Ave. in 1997 and has served the Colfax corridor neighborhood ever since.
“Non-profits close more often than people think,” said Tom Leuhrs, executive director of the St. Francis Center. SFC is assuming all of DenUM’s assets. “Over the past year and a half there have been a number of food banks in particular that have closed down because of lack of funding.”
DenUM employed six people in addition to executive director Tammy Mulligan.
“We are disappointed that it kind of had to go this way,” said Mulligan. “Ultimately we’re glad that St. Francis Center will use the building for permanent housing—that’s the most needed service in the city right now.”
The now-vacant building will remain so for the foreseeable future. The intention is for it to be renovated into affordable housing units; the second option is for the building to be sold, with the profit going towards purchasing a new building for the same purpose.
“The housing is a little bit more time intense, so we are working on that now and hope to have something within a year’s time,” explained Leuhrs. “It takes a lot to get the financing in place, and we are at the beginning of that step.” Either way, the legacy of DenUM will be to continue supporting the impoverished community of Denver with affordable housing, it’s just a matter of where and when.
Aurora Interfaith Community Services has assumed the food donations DenUM was receiving.
“We wanted our food to go to an organization that has a growing population, which Aurora definitely does, that has a need for it. [AICS doesn’t] have a big warehouse full of food like some other pantries do, and they’re not a big fancy organization,” explained Mulligan. Like DenUM, AICS is right off of Colfax but further east, between Quebec and Peoria.
While the food pantry is closed and will not re-open, two other signature programs of DenUM—the Employment Service center and the Urban Education program—have already been taken over by SFC. Employment services were merged with SFC’s already existing employment department, and the programming around Urban Education is now being run by SFC staff.
“Their Urban Education program was strong and nationally recognized,” said Leuhrs. “[The program] is bringing people a lot of people from out of state and local people to downtown Denver, and it’s educating them about what urban life is like—particularly from the perspective of people that are in poverty or close to poverty.”
In 2016, DenUM provided 467,619 meals to 9,742 households. 3,413 volunteers contributed 24,296 hours through Urban Education, weekly volunteers and events. ■