In Episode #10 of Everyday Heroes: A COVID-19 Podcast, we meet Bernadette Marquez. She runs Foothills Foodies, a food bank associated with the Jefferson County schools in Colorado.
EVERYDAY HEROES: A COVID-19 Podcast. Featuring Angela Rothermel and Bernadette Marquez. Produced by Michael T. Starks. Editing Services by Brian Torres, Irlend Productions Independent, LLC. All Images and Footage used with Permission & Licensing, Provided by Adobe Stock and Pixabay.com. "Say a Prayer for the Living" Music, Lyrics & Performed by Michael T. Starks. Special Thanks to Karilyn T. Starks. Ionogen Media, LLC Copyright 2020. All Rights Reserved.
“Memories heal the living. We pray for the living.”
Angela: Like episode nine, this episode was also recorded on July 8th, 2020. President Trump tweeted, “We want to reopen the schools. Everybody wants it. The moms want it. The dads want it. The kids want it. It's time to do it.” At this time, the total number of deaths due to COVID-19 in the United States was over 135,000. This is the context of our tenth episode of Everyday Heroes, a conversation with Bernadette Marquez. She is co-founder and coordinator of the Hub at Foothills Foodies.
Angela: Thank you so much for joining us today. I'm Angela Rothermel. I'm here today with Bernadette Marquez. Hi, Bernadette. How are you doing?
Bernadette: I'm great. Thank you.
Angela: So tell me a little bit about what you do.
Bernadette: So, we… well, I, for a few years now, have participated in informing this amazing organization, within our school building, called Foothills Foodies. And initially, when starting this program, it was a backpack program, in which we provided just bags of food for families over the weekend, to ensure that they had food to cover them over the weekend. We are a Title One school, which means that 76% of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch. And so with that being said, we recognized the need of extra food on the weekends. Especially since our students on a daily basis that did receive free and reduced lunch had the opportunity to get a free breakfast and a free lunch. And so we knew that the need was real, and starting that backpack program… Once we saw the backpack program really take off, one of the things that I noticed was that, probably a few months into it, some of the kids were no longer taking the bags. And what we recognized, with that being said, is that they were getting a lot of the same items reoccurring, and their families were not necessarily picking those food items. So we didn't necessarily know if they had any allergies. We didn't know if they had a kosher diet. We didn't know if 17 cans of corn were in their cupboard based upon what we were providing them. And so the thought process then was, “You know, what? Maybe we should expand and have families have the opportunity to come and actually pick food, that they were actually going to eat.
Bernadette: You know, so with that being said, we decided that we were going to seek out a grant, and we got it: a $1,000 grant. And we went to different programs within Jeffco, different school communities that had something, as what they call as a hub. And we just visited those and kind of got a good idea of what the process looked like. Little did we know that, kind of modeling and doing a few things that they were doing, and we compiled all the ideas into one, that we were able, with that $1,000 grant, to really just go for it.
Bernadette: And so that's what we did. We went for it! It was just a hundred percent, like we just dove in. There was no getting our feet wet. It was full-on. I'm the family engagement liaison at Foothills Elementary school. And so that's my role. A lot of my role is to ensure that I'm offering or giving families referrals to different kinds of resources within the community. And so with that, I formed different partnerships with many different community members and just pulled them in, with the help of Reg Cox, who happens to be part of the Lakewood Faith Coalition. And so, then he was able to introduce me to different members of faith within our community. Not only that, I was able to reach out and branch out to other different organizations, including the Foothills Rotary Club and just different entities within our community.
Bernadette: And with that being said, we just had this amazing outpouring of love, which included food donations and volunteers to come and help serve. So ultimately, what ended up happening is we were running a store, a food store, I mean, literally. We reached out to King Soopers, and I got baskets, where families could shop with their grocery baskets. And I was able to just coordinate with our local neighborhood Safeway, and they provided all of our bags. And they also gave us food that they were going to have to take off the shelves because the shelf life was over. So we had access to fresh produce. And then we partnered with the Action Center, and they provided us with produce on a weekly basis, fresh produce. And so we not only were able to provide families with the non-perishables, but also, fruit and veggies and bread and other things that they could fill their pantries with, which was absolutely phenomenal.
Bernadette: With that being said, we had in October our grand opening. I had also partnered with an organization called A Precious Child, and they provided… we're a satellite location… so they provide all of our clothing and hygiene. So we actually have a full, functioning store. Families make appointments with me, and they would come in, and they would shop and grab the food items and the clothing items that they would need. And then on Fridays, near the end of the school day, we had something called our Friday Innovation Block. With our Friday Innovation Block, kids were able to come in… they chose this as one of their courses… to come in and help support. So we had about seven kids every Friday, the last hour of school, that voluntarily chose this as their innovation to come out, and they worked in the store. They stocked the shelves. They bagged the groceries. They helped families sign in. They provided baskets to families.
Bernadette: And so, a year in, I might do… We started a few years back. It was 2018 that we really had a kickoff. Previous to that, it was 2017, where we were doing backpack. Now into the 2019/20 school year, we're doing… we're running a full store.
Bernadette: I just… I can't even, I can't even begin to tell you how amazing our program was until, ultimately, March 16th happened. And that's when, that previous Friday, we knew that that was going to be our last day of school. Until, you know, the stay home, stay home orders would be lifted. And we figured that would be, you know, maybe sometime in May. Right? Or actually no. April. We were… it was April that we believed that the stay home orders were going to be lifted. And so, with that, we jumped in right away to think about how are we going to continue to serve families in our community.
Bernadette: Because, although the hub at Foothills Foodies is ran on the Foothills Elementary School campus, we serve all of the Green Mountain articulation area schools, which include… let's see, I have… let me look back here. We have one, two, three, four, five elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school. And so families had the opportunity every Friday, from all of those different schools, if they would benefit from all the extra food and clothing, the supplemental food and clothing, that they could come in and shop. And so, right away, we met up with the Food and Nutrition team and said, “We want to be able to provide food when you guys are given out the lunches that you're going to be providing”. Because right away, Food and Nutrition in Jeffco, you know, with the partnership with USDA, they were like, “We need to get families fed.” And so, that's what we did. So, right away, we set up shop at Dunstan Middle School, which is one, the middle school within the area. And we started providing food. So, Food and Nutrition provided breakfast and lunch, and I provided grocery bags full of food. And so, in our grocery bags, we provide breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack items three times a week. It's phenomenal because families come in and get their breakfast, lunch… their breakfast and lunch from Nutrition. And then they come to me, and they just pull up. It's all curbside, and we're just putting food into their, their cars. And so, although it's not a whole lot of groceries, it's enough to sustain them potentially for a few days, because it has all kinds of different items in there, just to supplement what they already do have… if they have, you know, some things at home.
Bernadette: One of the things that happened a few years back… We do partner with our neighborhood schools. In fact, one of our neighborhood schools adopts us every single year, and we did a paper drive. And so they provided us in 2018… we got a huge donation of paper towels and toilet paper, and it was stockpiled. And I'm thinking, how in the world am I ever going to get rid of all this paper towel and toilet paper? What ended up happening is that everybody in the world needed access to my, to my paper towel and toilet paper, closet. Well, let me tell you… And so it was, it was amazing, you know, that we were able to provide that to families, and that the neighborhood, the neighborhood kids, kids from a different school that saw the need in our school, and their families that saw the need in our school, for six weeks collected all this paper towel and toilet paper for our family. And we were able to then provide it to the entire community, if needed, during the grab-and-go lunch and breakfast time. So that was super cool because…
Angela: That’s amazing.
Bernadette: I mean, families walked away generally, in their bag, with two rolls of toilet paper. With our partnership with A Precious Child, we were able to give them toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo/body wash kind of mix… You know, it was kind of a mix of both. We actually were able to provide families with a disinfectant spray. So we had donated to us, through our partnership with A Precious Child, 200 bottles of disinfectant spray. Two things people couldn't find in the world were disinfectant spray and toilet paper. Right? So, it was just phenomenal how, you know, people would pull up, and I'm giving them toilet paper and disinfectant spray. And tears are rolling down their eyes, because they can't believe that they could just pull up, you know, grab some food that could sustain their kids, you know, and also meals are enriching them as a family. Plus, you know, the basic common needs that everybody was seeking out, at stores, that they couldn't find. The shelves were empty.
Angela: Thank Goodness organizations like you exist. What, what is your… Do you have a website?
Bernadette: Hmm. You can locate our website on the Foothills Elementary School main website.
Angela: Google Foothills Foodies, I'd imagine. Right?
Bernadette: So it's actually gonna be… There's a link at the top, where you can, like a pull down box towards resources, and then you pull up the information for Foothills Foodies. And on there, we provide a lot of the things that I have here on this board about just what we do, who we offer food to, which is anybody. I mean, we don't turn down a single person. I don't necessarily collect data, in a sense, where I'm having people write down their names and all of that. I do recognize that even with the families that do come in, they do sign their name and how many kids did they have for, you know, in our school or within the community during the school year. But right now the need is so… We had families that came from the Dakota Ridge area. We had families that came from Denver. We had families that came from all over the district, because they've heard about our program, and there's no qualifiers. You get what you need when you need it. And so…
Angela: Do you have volunteer opportunities as well?
Bernadette: So volunteer opportunities right now… I've secured a few main volunteers that kind of know the drill. Obviously, you know, with how everything is going, you're subject to… When you get to the school, they do temp checks. We have to say, you know, that we haven't been exposed to anybody with COVID, and we have just this, you know, daily checkmark box that we have to fill out, and they do a temp check on us to ensure that we're healthy. So it's been kind of limited to a few main people that kind of know the drill.
But during the school year, we definitely have a signup genius, where family or anybody in the world, can really come in and sign up. And then they'd have to get their background check and everything, and get approved, and then they can be… They can volunteer to pick up food from the different entities that provide us free produce and fresh food, or they can come in and kind of support the shopping process for the families on Fridays. Or they could, you know, do… There's just different, so many different things, I can have them do within the week, like stock, the clothing, or stock the hygiene, or do that kind of different stuff. So yeah, we do have volunteer opportunities, but right now with COVID, we're really limited, just because we want to ensure that that people are safe.
Angela: Absolutely. So before this pandemic happened, you had to pivot and you had to change your strategy, and in doing so, you found that you've been even more supported by the community. Is that correct?
Bernadette: Yes. In fact, we picked up new partners that we didn't have previously.
Angela: That’s amazing.
Bernadette: And the outreach to families that, again, would have never… that never came to us previously, on account of the fact that they had jobs. They didn't have to.
Bernadette: And now we're seeing those families say, you know, things like, “How can I give back? What can I do when I get back to work? What can I do? Because you… your organization has helped us so much. I want to give back.” Emails on a weekly basis: “How can I volunteer?” So it's a, it's a true co-op. I mean, it is a cooperative in every which… every way, shape, and form. There is… there's people within the community, people that have received food, people that have given… brought in one can of food, just one, but, you know, that's what's in their pantry. You know, they're… everybody is giving back to ensure that everybody has access to it, and has access to food.
Angela: Oh, you're gonna make me cry. That's so good. It’s so inspiring.
Bernadette: It's amazing.
Angela: I'm so happy that they have you, and they have your organization. You know, food and security is huge, especially when… What are the numbers of unemployed, or people furloughed? I mean, seriously... Is there anything you want to leave us with?
Bernadette: You know, I feel like ultimately as sad and, and terrible as this pandemic has been, I've seen so much good come from it. I recognize in so many ways how very fortunate we are to live in a society that… that we're free and we have access to things. And I know there's other places within this world that don't have that. So it just makes you appreciate everything so much. And just the outpouring, the love and support, just makes, makes it so much more special to know… Like I said, even grandparents that have minimal, you know, money or minimal things in their own pantry, for them to just do whatever they possibly can.
Angela: Yeah. Thank you for all that you do for your community, and for us, and for all the kids, and the grandparents, parents, and all those ripple effects that you've made happen. Thank you.
Bernadette: It's been my pleasure. And I'm, I think, like I said before, I’m just a hundred percent grateful that I can do this.