'A chance to breathe and relax'

IFCS distributes hundreds of Thanksgiving dinners to needy families

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It's been a rough year for Mike Peterson.

His wife passed away late last year, and the funeral expenses left him homeless, he said. Peterson now lives with his son and daughter, who were laid off early in the pandemic. Peterson, who spent nearly 50 of his 65 years in construction, is on disability while recovering from knee surgeries.

But despite the setbacks, Peterson said he remains grateful for life, God and his children. And thanks to Integrated Family Community Services, he is able to give thanks with his children over a full Thanksgiving feast.

“It means I can still give my kids something nice,” Peterson said after picking up a Thanksgiving food box. “God bless these guys for doing this. It helps me feel like Dad can still provide. We all have to slow down and help each other.”

Peterson was one of hundreds of people who lined up in cars at Arapahoe Community College on Nov. 21 to pick up one of 700 free Thanksgiving boxes, loaded with everything a family would need to prepare a Turkey Day feast with all the trimmings: mashed potatoes and gravy, cornbread mix, cranberry sauce, vegetables and vouchers to buy turkeys.

Beyond a hearty meal, IFCS hoped to provide a needed break in an overwhelming year, said Todd McPherson, outreach director for the assistance agency that provides food and other services to people across the south metro area.

“It's about respite, about giving people a chance to breathe and relax,” McPherson said. “Lots of families and friends can't get together this year. It's a solemn Thanksgiving for a lot of people, and hopefully this will help level the playing field for folks who might not have a lot to begin with.”

IFCS normally distributes Thanksgiving boxes, McPherson said, though this is the first year the group has given them away to all comers rather than pre-registered clients.

IFCS has seen need skyrocket this year, McPherson said, and has eliminated barriers like proof of hardship and geographic restrictions.

“We're seeing record numbers every day, and we certainly anticipate that will continue through the holidays,” he said.

Despite the tough economic times, the group has been buoyed by grants, with the Thanksgiving program bankrolled in part by gifts from All State Insurance, the Rotary Clubs of Highlands Ranch and Littleton, the Columbine Kiwanis and the Littleton Sertoma Club.

“This is a ray of sunshine,” said Patricia Sznip, a member of the Highlands Ranch Rotary who volunteered to help load boxes into cars. “It's good to think outside yourself. There are people around us struggling, and I'm so grateful for groups like IFCS and people who donate who are in a position to help.”

IFCS will continue its holiday season efforts with the One Can Feed campaign, which raises money for food, and a fundraiser to buy presents for children up to age 10. More information is available at IFCS.org.

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