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Denver nonprofit opens city's first free grocery store, helping families in need
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Yeli Flores and her children shop at Feed Denver's Hungry's free grocery store.

DENVER — "Nobody should have to work hard and not be able to afford food.”

That message is really at the core of Jim Scharper’s personal mission and is now the mission of what he believes is the first free grocery store in Denver.

12 years ago, Scharper was experiencing homelessness during a battle with alcoholism.

“I saw what a great need there was after being on the street just to acquire food,” recalled Scharper.

After getting sober, Scharper started making sandwiches and distributing them to people in need. He established a nonprofit called Feeding Denver’s Hungry. During the last eight years, he has expanded this effort to the point that he can deliver full bagged lunches to those in need.

In April of this year, Feeding Denver’s Hungry opened a free grocery store, enabling Scharper to expand on his mission. 

Colorado Voices

Growing use of free Denver grocery store

Since Jim Scharper opened a free grocery store in Denver in April this year, he’s seen the need for it increase. 

“From one day to the next, for a lot of people, is a challenge,” he explained.

“This pandemic shortened work,” said Yeli Flores, a mom who uses the free grocery store to feed her family. “Just having lots of kids at the house eating more… so this is very helpful for us. And especially for the kiddos, they don’t understand what we’re going through."

Scharper has thought of the kids, too. The store has a special section for them to pick out a toy.

“The kids that come in here shouldn’t be suffering because of their situation they’ve been put into,” said Scharper. “So, we’ve put together a shelf for toys for kids to pick through when they come in here, so they get a little something to go home with as well.”

Ultimately Scharper hopes families can walk away with a little more than just food from the store. He wants to provide a sense of relief for the day. 

“It’s more than the essentials that you need. It's stuff that makes you forget about the fact that you’re in deep poverty for a moment and you can enjoy life a little bit,” said Scharper.

Jim Scharper (left) started making sandwiches to hand out to those in need eight years ago. (Photo: Jim Scharper)

Sure enough, families are seen finally able to get snacks for their kids or those little extras that can lift their spirits. 

“I’m very happy. Very happy,” said Flores. 

Scharper is glad he’s able to help so many families, especially since he said the number of people who are need of food just keeps growing on a regular basis. 

In April, Hunger Free Colorado, a statewide nonprofit organization which 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 one in six children are not getting proper nutrition.

“Thankfully, we are able to keep donations coming in and we can continue to buy groceries to help those folks out,” said Scharper.

Right now, the free grocery store is open two days a week and by appointment only. There is a limit of two appointments per household, per month. There may also be a limit on certain items or a request for a donation of some items. 

If you’d like to sign up for an appointment, visit their website here. The store is located just south of East 56th Avenue in the Montbello neighborhood of Denver. 


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

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