A Douglas County nonprofit is working to eradicate food insecurity


HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. As June Everett loads boxes of meat, vegetables, bread and snacks into cars, she does not ask questions.

No income requirement. No address needed. No identification requested.

Only help and compassion.

Everett started the Backpack Society — a Douglas County nonprofit aiming to eradicate food insecurity in the area — out of her Highlands Ranch garage in September 2019. Months later, the organization partnered with ThunderRidge High School to roll out a pilot program for 20 students set to begin after spring break of 2020.

But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March of that year and forced students to stay home from school, Everett realized food insecurity would grow dramatically as kids who once relied on school meals no longer had that option.

Everett and Laurel Gebhard, senior director of programs and operations, then began delivering groceries to students’ houses for both the children and their families.

The program has since grown, now feeding about 600 people a week, a number that Everett said may shock Douglas County residents.

“We know that there are kids who need that help and need that assistance with food on the weekends or during school breaks, especially those that really rely on school meals,” Everett said.

A study published by Denver Business Journal ranked Douglas County among the 10 wealthiest counties in the nation. Because of the area’s immense wealth, Everett said many of the families her organization serves are afraid of asking for help, due to the stigma around needing support.

“People don’t realize that there’s a need, and I think these kiddos get overlooked quite often because of where they’re located,” Everett said. “Signing up for help is difficult. People are very hesitant, especially in our community.”

Though the stigma may have been difficult at first, Backpack Society recipients said the program has brought them immense help in times of need.

“We just love the people the volunteers, the empowerment, the no judgment,” said Cecilia Zamudio, a recipient. “Sometimes it’s hard to ask for help because people will judge you and look at you funny because you’re asking for a handout. This does not feel like a handout. It feels like a hand up.”

The organization does not require any information from its participants before assisting them, but it does ask that families only receive donations if they have school-aged children.

“We see families who maybe have been using us for a few months and then I don’t hear from them again," Everett said, "and then I get a letter in the mail that says ‘thank you so much for the help you've given.’”

Brian Willie is the content production manager at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at brianwillie@rmpbs.org

Alison Berg is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at alisonberg@rmpbs.org.

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