Westminster Presbyterian FISH food pantry offers a hand-up

Cross Currents: A column by Bill Christopher
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 1/26/21

The Westminster Presbyterian Church is the oldest church in the city and the place roughly 115,000 people call “home.” Founded in 1892, the church sits in the same neighborhood where the original …

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Westminster Presbyterian FISH food pantry offers a hand-up


The Westminster Presbyterian Church is the oldest church in the city and the place roughly 115,000 people call “home.”

Founded in 1892, the church sits in the same neighborhood where the original church once stood. Ever since it began, the Presbyterian Church offered support and help to individuals and has been a community partner. Today, one of its forte’s is its FISH food pantry. While FISH of Westminster started in 1970 with a mission of servicing the neighborhood by babysitting and helping neighbors, the food bank became a reality in the 1990s. It’s been located in the Educational wing of the church located at 74th Avenue and Osceola Street in “Historic Westminster.”

Westy Presbyterian FISH distributed
over 43,000 meals

Westminster Presbyterian Church FISH serves quite a geographical area. It stretches from I-25 to Sheridan Boulevard and 52nd to 144th Avenues. Those boundaries include a portion of Westminster, a portion of Thornton, Federal Heights and a portion of unincorporated Adams County.

However, the food bank does not turn down anyone who has been experiencing food insecurity during the COVID pandemic.

According to Melissa Dukes, who has managed the Presbyterian food bank since June 2015, this past year was an exceptional year with the economic impact on individuals and families due to the deadly virus. She reports that 4,323 clients were served at the church during 2020 with well over 43,000 meals being provided.

On average, except for the months they were closed at the beginning of the pandemic, 110 people receive 10 meals per week — that comes to 1,100 being provided meals each week.

Looking at it in another way, she and the 28 volunteers distributed more than 150,000 pounds of food to these deserving individuals in 2020. Working with a $15,500 annual budget, Ms. Dukes certainly gets the most bang for the buck and stretches food donations to the maximum.

Less is more

The Westminster area enjoys food distribution to those in need from Growing Home, the Westminster Methodist Church (temporarily closed), Advent Lutheran Church (temporarily closed), St. Marks Catholic Church (temporarily closed) and the Westminster Presbyterian Church.

This is contrasted by how other FISH food banks are organized. For example, the Broomfield community operates with a single larger operation that was begun many years ago by the Broomfield United Methodist Church.

Dukes believes the smaller, more personal approach in Westminster fits the clientele quite well. She and the volunteers know all the regulars and their stories. It’s more like a family relationship. She and the volunteers are aware of what these families are going through and offer compassion and kindness.

Dukes herself found a perfect fit heading up the food back after retiring from a 40-year career with the federal government. Her work experience in human resources and project management with the Department of Navy and later with the Interior Department could not have been a better fit.

The basics of tackling food insecurity

So, where does Ms. Dukes procure all the food that is given out four times a week at the FISH center?

The food bank purchases a lot of the food from the Food Bank of the Rockies at low prices. Thanks to Grocery Rescue partnerships with various food-oriented businesses, no cost contributions come to the food bank as well. King Soopers provides 300-1,000 pounds of food each week at no cost. The Kum & Go Convenience Store at 74th Avenue and Federal Boulevard is a generous no-cost provider of packaged pizza and prepared sandwiches each week. Starbucks is also a partner.

In addition, food is donated by a variety of groups. Before the COVID virus, food drives by such organizations as 9Cares, City of Westminster, City of Thornton, Eagle Scouts, Boy Scouts, PEO and the Baha’i Congregation took place.

Long-time partnerships continued to collect donations from Valente’s Italian Deli and Bakery throughout the year. In 2020, funds to purchase food and equipment came from the City of Westminster ($7,500), City of Thornton ($6,000), $2,000 food credit from Jeff Bezos/Feeding America, Denver Presbytery ($1,000), We Don’t Waste ($650), church members and from the community.

Filling “empty tummies”

According to Ms. Dukes, the FISH food bank is making a difference in peoples’ lives. The organization’s goal is to provide emergency food to reduce food insecurity. As she points out, with less food insecurity there is less worry that children will go hungry. Children will achieve and learn more at school. With fewer “empty tummies”, it makes for a more stable life.

Melissa told me that this “is not fairy dust.” It is basic. It is real. It is making a difference in lives.

When asked how long she thinks the Westminster FISH food bank will be in business, without hesitation she responded, “Forever.” She believes it is “the nature of this world and there will always be a need.”

Kudos to their mission

Kudos goes to the Westminster Presbyterian Church and Melissa Dukes for this fine vital community service which they have been administering, especially during the COVID virus. Thank you for your caring, compassion and belief in providing a “hand-up” to those in need.

A welcomed change in leadership and direction

We look forward with faith, optimism and reassurance to not only the direction, but also the style/demeanor which President Biden and Vice President Harris will bring to the leadership of our nation’s government. They have a huge challenge in front of them, not only re-directing where the country needs to go, but also how to get there.

The division within America is perhaps the worst it has been since the Civil War. The President and his Cabinet are faced with a monumental mess to clean up. It is critical to tackle a totally botched effort on the COVID19 pandemic starting with reorganizing President Trump’s ill-fated “Operation Warp Speed.” It has been a major disappointment in distributing the vaccines to all 50 states in a timely fashion.

According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, 52% believe the virus is “not at all under control” contrasted with 8% who believe it is” mostly under control.” President Biden will make the delivery of the vaccines and continued testing a legitimate number one priority.

Getting underway

Certainly, a key priority for the new administration will be to get the Biden Cabinet members and other high ranking officials confirmed by the U.S. Senate and in place. They need to “hit the ground running.”

Biden has promised a significant relief package of $1.9 trillion including an additional $1,400 per person which requires Congressional authorization. Time is of the essence to distribute whatever this next relief package might contain to continue, turning the national economy around and getting people back on their feet.

Facing a divided nation

Beyond containing the COVID19 virus and re-building the economy, the Biden Administration is concurrently faced with a strongly divided country along political lines. It goes without saying that there is not a “silver bullet” single action or decision which will heal this deep chasm.

Hopefully, many of Trump’s supporters will have seen how drastic the man was willing to go to attempt to overturn Biden’s Presidential victory and give Biden the benefit of the doubt. It was encouraging to see outgoing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell publicly state that Trump was responsible for the violent mob that stormed the Capitol. However, those who are members of militant and white supremacy groups are “hardened” and likely to remain ardent in their opposition to the Biden Administration.

Bill Christopher is a former Westminster city manager and RTD board member. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media. You can contact him at bcjayhawk68@gmail.com.


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