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Josh Ford, executive chef for the Denver Metro Emergency Food Network, stands in his makeshift restaurant space in the basement of the First Baptist Church in Denver. The network has delivered 92,096 meals to hungry and homebound Coloradans since they started on March 18.

Every weekday morning at 6:30 a.m., Josh Ford pulls into the parking lot of the First Baptist Church in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood and fires up the Old Hickory Smoker. Then he heads to the basement to get to work. 

“I’ve been doing restaurants my whole life. Since I was 14, making hot dogs at Skateland,” Ford, 39, said. But he’s never run a food operation out of a church basement. And definitely not during a global pandemic.

“We’re all kind of learning as we go here,” Ford said, who is the executive chef of the newly formed Denver Metro Emergency Food Network, which is preparing and delivering thousands of free meals to homebound senior citizens and low-income families during the coronavirus outbreak.

Josh Ford talks about how he’s been affected by the coronavirus. (Provided by Josh Ford)

Ford was hired in August by Lost City, a small cafe that opened in February inside the First Baptist Church, which quickly pivoted its operations to create the emergency food network.

Since they started making meals on March 18, the nonprofit has received nearly $400,000 in donations and delivered over 60,000 meals to hungry Coloradans. One in 11 people in the state lack funds to buy food, according to the nonprofit Hunger Free Colorado. And that number will likely rise due to the coronavirus crisis.


The latest from the coronavirus outbreak in Colorado:

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About half the food is donated, so the menu for the day is often a mystery. “It’s like ‘Top Chef,’ but instead of a handful of ingredients, it’s pallets full of food,” Ford said, whose team includes 12 paid staff members and 10 to 20 volunteers per day, some of whom are out-of-work restaurant workers. On April 16, they made tomato salad, roasted chicken and mac and cheese.

“We try to have fun here,” Ford said, smiling beneath his gray-and-white cloth face mask, as a Lady Gaga song blared through the makeshift prep kitchen, which he’s nicknamed, “The Jungle.”

Ford said when he looks back at this moment in history, he hopes people remember the “humanity in all of this madness.” 

“That’s why we are doing this. To help each other out,” Ford said. “And whether that’s feeding one person or feeding 10,000. What better way to make people feel at ease than giving them a meal.”

This story is powered by COLab, the Colorado News Collaborative. The ColoradoSun joined this historic collaboration with more than 20 other newsrooms across Colorado to better serve the public.

To read more of The Colorado Sun’s coverage from this project, click here.

Moe Clark is a former Colorado Sun writer. She left the publication in June 2020. Email: Twitter: @moe_clark15