How one Arvada mom helps Colorado families through food and formula shortages

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Rachel Estabrook/CPR News
Julia Walker holds a container of baby formula waiting to be picked up at Hope, Connection and Community in Arvada.

Julia Walker got a knock on her door in Arvada last Thursday afternoon. It was someone who had come to pick up baby formula for a friend. Within thirty minutes she got a second knock, from a mom, Selene Rangel, who had driven across Metro Denver from Aurora to pick up formula for her 8-month-old daughter, Izabella. 

“For her milk, I mean, I’ll drive,” Rangel said with a sigh. “I’ve driven far.”

Walker reached over on top of a dog crate, where she keeps some of the formula containers she stacks up for parents in need who have contacted her through Facebook. More formula – in pink and purple tubs – is piled up on Walker’s desk, behind her work laptop.

Walker has made herself a link in the chain to get baby formula from stores and people who have it to families who need it. Her home doubles as an office for her day job — and triples as a baby formula supply room.  

Her efforts didn’t begin with the formula shortage, though. She got started in 2020, when Walker and her son, Jalen, saw neighbors in need of food and basic supplies. 

“When we see big problems going on in the community, we always have conversations around what kind of impact we can make as individuals to help,” she said. “My son was very food-motivated at 14 years old. That was the center of his world. So it made a lot of sense when I asked him, ‘How can we help?’ his suggestion was ‘We should give people food.’”

They grabbed food out of their own cupboards and set up in a parking lot at an elementary school. On social media, they invited people to pick up food or donate resources.

Walker eventually set up a nonprofit, and two years later, it’s still active. In addition to finding and distributing baby formula, the group, called Hope, Connection and Community, now allows people in need to schedule pick-up orders of groceries at their local stores, and has purchased garden plots with the idea that they will be able to provide fresh produce in the summer. 

She said plenty of people still need assistance.

“Although we have kind of dug ourselves out of the trenches of the COVID pandemic, we are faced with other economic challenges right now. Inflation, cost of living is astronomical.”

Walker’s day job is with the local county, and so she is familiar with the existing safety net of local governments and nonprofits. But, she said what makes her group unusual is that they don’t ask questions about people’s income or require any paperwork. 

“It is one of the hardest things to swallow your pride and admit that you need help,” she said. So Walker is adamant that Hope, Connection and Community provide support without barriers — and that options like grocery pick-up help people maintain dignity at a challenging time in their lives.

Walker relates to the people she’s helping

Rachel Estabrook/CPR News
Two orders of baby formula waiting to be picked up at Hope, Connection and Community in Arvada.

She juggles being a single mom with a day job and this community work because she knows that at one point or another in life, everyone will need help. 

“I am one situation or one decision or one event from being exactly where they are,” Walker said about the people coming to pick up formula at her house. 

She does not mean that metaphorically. 

She describes her childhood, which included some time in foster care, as “rough.” She said a lot of people helped her through that time, which now feeds her desire to help others. “At the end of the day they never gave up, and so I learned that it’s important to not give up on other people.”

When it comes to the baby formula shortage, Walker has lived the need first hand. She has an infant daughter, and in April, she went to her normal store to buy baby formula and couldn’t find any on the shelves. This experience repeated in several more stores. At the same time, she started getting messages through the nonprofit’s Facebook page, about other parents who couldn’t find baby formula, either.

That set her on a mission to find it. 

Her nonprofit uses Facebook, word of mouth, and two groups — Nationwide Formula Search and Where is Formula – Colorado — that are full of parents in need or on the lookout for places where formula is available for sale, including out of state. Walker’s group also gets tips from people when they see formula on store shelves. Some community members buy the formula themselves and drop it off at Walker’s home.

But, she said the stock never sits around her house very long. People have come from as far away as Greeley. Some come to the door showing the heavy emotional burden of trying to feed their kids.

“When they pick up and I see the tears and the emotion and relief, I greet them with a smile and a hug and reassurance,” she said. “The fact that they’re searching means they’re doing their best.”