As Denverites ready themselves for Election Day on November 6, they’re muddling through an unusually thick ballot. In addition to 13 Colorado initiatives and amendments demanding voter attention, there are also nine measures specific to Denver.
One of those, Healthy Food for Denver Kids (Ordinance 302), asks residents to raise taxes to help feed hungry children. Although the smallest of the proposed tax increases on the ballot—less than a penny on a $10 purchase—this relatively minuscule amount will add up to have a huge impact, says Blake Angelo, volunteer campaign chair of the Healthy Food for Denver Campaign. The total amount will reach an estimated $100 million over 10 years, entirely dedicated to feeding and educating low-income and at-risk children about healthy food choices. Many of the meals provided will take place on weekends and the summer months when school is out of session (and free and reduced lunch is unavailable).
The reality is that one in seven kids in Denver is hungry. And if that alarming statistic didn’t catch your attention, maybe this will: Colorado is the third fastest-growing state in terms of childhood hunger. “This is staggering and stupid,” says Adam Schlegel, co-founder of Snooze, Chook, and the former board president of EatDenver. “There are not enough grants, foundations, or endowments that focus on this.”
“Currently there is no dedicated resourcing for the issue [of hungry children in Denver],” Angelo says. “That’s what is both innovative and strategic about this. We want to solve the problem. We are going take the next decade and solve this together.”
If Healthy Food for Denver Kids passes—and it likely will with no organized opposition and a 71 percent approval rating in a recent poll by Change Research—a 13-person commission of five public officials and eight community members will form to distribute the funds to local nonprofit organizations working to alleviate childhood hunger. Think of this as a healthy food version of the well liked and well established SCFD. “Resources [will be] allocated based on how efficient organizations and programs are at reaching and serving low-income youth,” says Angelo. (There will be a 10 percent administration cap to ensure that the dollars go where 302 says it will go.) Furthermore, the ordinance prioritizes food from local ranchers, farmers, and producers so Colorado’s economy also benefits.
If there are detractors, their reasoning comes down to 302 being a tax increase. Denver restaurant consultant John Imbergamo puts it like this: “How can anyone be against healthy food for kids? That’s like being against Santa Claus. But when taken in aggregate with other proposals, that’s when people like me, who are watchdogs of pricing, and specifically consumer pricing, get nervous.” Imbergamo goes on to explain that when the economy is good, a small increase is no big deal. It’s when the economy turns that he worries. Even so, he reports that “almost everyone I’ve talked to from restaurants is voting for it.” The question is, will the rest of Denver?