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At Denver's South High School, need for food pantry grows in COVID-19 era


DENVER — For years, the goal of South High School's food pantry has been "to make sure none of our kids go to bed hungry at night," said co-founder Greg Thielen.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, with many families thrown out of work, that mission has taken on even greater urgency.

"Without the food bank, we would definitely be in a pickle," said student Raymond Rolon. "My mom got laid off some hours, so having the produce come to us really helped us out."

Thielen and Jaclyn Yelich founded the pantry in 2014 with their daughter was a student at South High, in Denver's Washington Park neighborhood. She's now out of college, and they're still at it.

The pantry opens every Thursday to serve students and their families.

The school has a highly diverse student body — economically, ethnically and culturally. According to Denver Public Schools data for the current school year, 43% of South High's student population qualifies for free or reduced-price lunch, 54% of students are non-white, and 32% are English-language learners. 

Traditionally a school that welcomes immigrants, as author Helen Thorpe documented in her 2017 book "The Newcomers," South's students come from dozens of countries.

"It's a melting pot. ... It's so many different ethnic groups here," said Jettie Middleton, the family liaison coordinator at South High and a former banquet executive. "We're not looking at backgrounds or anything. We're just happy that we can ... be of service to our community."

At the pantry, about 35 regular volunteers help sort, pack and deliver food and home supplies each week. The pantry typically serves nearly 100 families a week — about 500 people.

Food is donated by We Don’t Waste, an organization that reclaims fresh food, and Food for Thought, an organization focused on feeding kids in partnership with Food Bank of the Rockies. Additional food is purchased through a grant from the Healthy Food for Denver’s Kids (HFDK) Initiative.

Because of COVID, the pantry stayed open during last summer's school vacation for the first time, said volunteer Sandra Wright. "[We knew] a lot of our families would be hit with job loss [and] more food insecurity."

During the pandemic, the pantry is delivering food to more than 30 families a week.

"Sometimes they need just that little bit to make ends meet," Middleton said. "They may be just, like, two meals away from not having anything in the freezer."


If you'd like information on how to help the South High food pantry, email Jaclyn Yelich at

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