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Helping to Feed the Homeless One Lunch at a Time

SkillsUSA Colorado students provide lunches to homeless women during the pandemic.
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Photo courtesy of Thomas Jefferson High School.

SkillsUSA chapter members at Thomas Jefferson High School (TJHS) in Denver, Colo. took quick action when they identified the pandemic’s staggering impact on their homeless population and decided to do something about it.

“This activity was one of my favorites. It allowed us to get involved in the community and make an immediate difference in the lives of some women, says Gabriella DeMaria, SkillsUSA media relations officer and senior at TJHS. “I hope we can do something similar again and continue to help the city we call home!”

DeMaria was one of eight SkillsUSA chapter members at TJHS who identified the pandemic’s staggering impact on Denver’s homeless population. The students started their initiative by contacting Denver’s Capitol Hill United Ministries to find a need. They decided to provide bagged lunches to women through the Women’s Homelessness Initiative — a program that provides shelter and food year-round.

Setting a budget was their top priority. Lunch menus were created, food was purchased from Sam’s Club, and they planned a time and location for assembling the lunches outdoors at TJSH. Timing and coordination for the project was crucial since the lunches could not be packed more than two days before delivery. The students also formulated a backup plan in case of bad weather. The weather didn’t cooperate for the day they planned, and they had to use a chapter officer’s home to put the lunches together.

While preparing the lunches, the students were diligent about COVID-19 protocols. They wore masks and gloves, ensured the surfaces were properly sanitized, checked food temperatures and remained socially distanced. They delivered the lunches at a designated time to a specific pickup location.

Jerry Esparza, a web design, 3-D animation and senior career pathway teacher as well as the SkillsUSA advisor, explains: “The students made a difference during difficult times and provided 60 bag lunches for homeless women. They rose to the task to reach out to help others in their time of need.”

“I really enjoyed being able to give back to the community that has given me so much, says SkillsUSA president and senior Cecilia Prime Morales. “We all know that COVID-19 had detrimental effects on everyone but being able to do something positive and help people during this time really meant a lot to me.”

Throughout the project, members demonstrated a thoughtful understanding of two of the SkillsUSA Framework’s 17 Essential Elements: “Adaptability/Flexibility” and “Service Orientation.” They responded to a local need, showed resilience in coming up with a plan to serve Denver’s homeless women despite pandemic restrictions and embraced calculated change by planning for an alternate location for assembly to ensure they could meet their commitment and timeline. They also demonstrated resilience by strictly adhering to pandemic safety protocols, including multiple safety measures while working in a small group.

“I had a great time making lunches for the initiative with my peers, I had fun while doing something for the community,” says SkillsUSA vice president and senior Evan Valdes-Halterman. “Our goals were met, and we followed COVID-19 guidelines through the process.”

“Though I was not able to attend the lunch assembly in person, I had the opportunity to participate up until the day before the activity,” says SkillsUSA Reporter and junior Kate Little. “I’m proud of my teammates for successfully completing the project, while remaining poised and professional.”

The project earned the TJHS SkillsUSA chapter a designation as a gold-level “Chapter of Distinction,” in the SkillsUSA Chapter Excellence Program. The chapter was later named one of SkillsUSA’s top 24 “Models of Excellence” schools for 2021. Esparza adds, “The chapter is in the planning stages for a similar project for this school year to once again help Denver’s homeless. The students are passionate about this cause, and we’ve added it to our chapter’s program of work.”

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