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Aurora’s free food market temporarily closing due to rising rents, changes in funding
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A shopper at Food Connect Colorado leaves the free grocery store with a cart full of food in Aurora.

AURORA, Colo. — A free food market that was a lifeline to Aurora residents during the COVID-19 pandemic is temporarily closing its doors.

Due in part to rising rents, Food Connect Colorado — a nonprofit associated with Food Bank of the Rockies that runs a free grocery store — will cease operations while the nonprofit searches for a new location.

“Our rent has gone up quite a bit. It's gone up $500 in the year that we've been here,” explained Liz Watts, the founder of Food Connect Colorado.

“Also, our main source of funding, which is a grant … changed the rules about how you can use the grant money that they give you,” she continued. “It used to be, you could use it for just about anything. And then they changed the rules so that you had to spend 80% of this grant money on food.”

Watts explained for Food Connect Colorado, that funding structure “just doesn't work” because all of the food on the nonprofit’s shelves is donated or reclaimed, not purchased.

“We don't need money for food,” Watts said. “We need money for a place, and we need money for the utilities, you know, to refrigerate the food … now that that grant has changed the rules, we just don’t have any grant money coming that way. ”

Food Connect Colorado temporarily closing

The free grocery store is closing due to rising rent and funding changes

The market’s last day, for now, was Thursday, April 28.

Food insecurity has been a major issue during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, Food Bank of the Rockies found the need for food in its service areas increased by upwards of 80 percent.

Last spring, Hunger Free Colorado, a statewide nonprofit that connects people to food resources, published a survey that found 33 percent of Coloradans are struggling with "food insecurity or lack of consistent, reliable access to nutritious, culturally relevant food." The survey also found that about one in six children are not getting proper nutrition.

Credit: Hunger Free Colorado

“A lot of people are upset about our closing because they rely on us,” Watts. “They're here, you know, twice a month. I hate that all these people that we've been serving for all these months … are not going to have a place to go or, you know, it's going to be more difficult for them to get food.”

While the groceries at Food Connect Colorado are free, there are some restrictions: shoppers need to make an appointment to visit the market (shoppers who had an appointment scheduled for May and/or June will receive a cancellation notice via email, the organization said). Shoppers must also live within certain zip codes and can only visit twice a month. More information is available here.

The organization recommends following its Facebook page for further updates.

“We're going to still continue to try to make a new home somewhere else,” Watts said. “I'm still hopeful that we'll be able to do that. I'm hopeful that something will come through in the next few months.”


Brian Willie is the Content Production Manager at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can contact him at brianwillie@rmpbs.org.

Kyle Cooke is the digital media manager at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at kylecooke@rmpbs.org.

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