Bright Spot: Hands and Feet Ministry

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

This bright spot was originally published in the 100 Million Healthier Lives Change Library and is brought to you through partnership with 100 Million Healthier Lives and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.


Detailed Description

The Hands and Feet ministry of the Ecumenical Church of Pueblo West (ECOPW) was created to meet an increasing need in Pueblo West, Colorado (and now expanded to anyone in Pueblo County and beyond) where individuals and families are having a difficult time either accessing or purchasing healthy, nutritious food. Two Census tracts in Pueblo West near ECOPW are the poorest in Pueblo County and some of the poorest in all of southern Colorado. To meet this need, ECOPW expanded its existing food pantry, serving approximately 10 families a month, to the Hands and Feet Ministry.

Hands and Feet provides resources to anyone regardless of age, gender identification, race, geography, income, or faith tradition (if any). The only requirements to participate are to provide the participant's zip code, address, and number of family members; this data is not shared outside of the Hands and Feet program and is only used for tracking purposes. Hands and Feet has a four-pronged approach to bettering the lives of participants: a twice-a-week pantry (with fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy products, and meat) where families are allowed to come once a month for a full "shopping cart" of goods, a once-a-month "Friday Free Farmers Market" where a more limited selection of goods is available to anyone who attends until items run out, a senior food commodities distribution program, and seasonally applicable programs (e.g., school supplies, flu shots, health care enrollment, etc.).

The food pantry program is a partnership of ECOPW congregants, a local convenience store chain, and a local food bank. The same food bank is the major partner with the "Friday Free Farmers Market," while Pueblo County is the main partner in the senior food commodities program. A variety of groups have partnered in the seasonally appropriate programs, including local mental health agencies, pharmacies, retailers, and hospitals.

Expected Outcomes

  • Increase in individuals with limited resource accessing healthy food resources
  • The need anticipated will be exponentially higher and the speed at which word will spread will be faster than planned; there will be a need to be ready to ramp up resource


Potential bright spot

Key Principles

Hands and Feet has a simple operating principle: to help those who need help in service of faith, while being open to all.

Expansion of services beyond ECOPW's walls to better serve the underserved in the community was another guiding principle of creating Hands and Feet-Pueblo West is generally isolated from most county and social services with no public transportation available to those needing to access those services. Hands and Feet was a way to bring some of those services together under a "neutral tent" in a much more accessible location.

Hands and Feet has been successful because of three main points of emphasis: partnership in the congregation and the community, ability to test and scale up services at a reasonable pace, and an ability to track services provided. The dual roles of partnership (coming from a place of love and caring) with true improvement science principles have made Hands and Feet's work succeed.

Failing Forward Moments

One fail forward set of moments is learning what "additional" services to provide those receiving goods from the food program of Hands and Feet. Those helping with the program "had a good idea" of what participants needed and brought in outside groups to participate in Hands and Feet events, primarily attached to the Friday Free Farmers market. Some events went well (Affordable Care Act insurance sign ups, for example) some were failures (vet services for pets-some services for a fee). What program leaders learned (and continue to learn) is asking participants what they need, what matters to them, and working to bring those services out to Hands and Feet events in a manner best suited to fit participants' self-identified ability to participate.

Another fail forward moment still to be learned is measuring outcomes. While the program knows the number of participants, locations where they reside, and amount of food distributed, there is not yet a way for the program to measure outcomes. Hands and Feet is adopting the Adult Well-being survey to help start measuring some of those outcomes.

Key Lessons Learned

  • Over-anticipate needs in your community: the sheer number of participants will exceed initial expectations. On a number of early occasions, there were more people than food/goods/services available. Get more than you think you need.
  • Grateful people: people are truly grateful to receive the products of the Hands and Feet ministry, and don't see it as merely a "program," but a way to connect. Some who have received from the program now volunteer their time to the program
  • Volunteers' "joy in work": the volunteers who work the program (there is only one paid position doing the work who has other main responsibilities at the church) have expressed how fulfilling being a part of the Hands and Feet ministry has made them feel. It truly becomes a labor of love for these volunteers.

Cost Details

  • Approximately $5,000 per year, most from federal and local grants
  • In-kind depends on the services provided beyond food
  • A 0.5 FTE to administer the program, arrange for products/services and volunteers, grant writing and tracking, data collection

Key Steps for Implementation

  1. Begin by asking the organization you are part of (church, community group, association, etc.) if they are willing to take on a program serving the under-served, especially with food distribution
  2. If the will is there, research where the need exists (food desert research is readily available from most local/state public health departments)
  3. Research why there is a lack of resource in the particular community and have conversations with the community about their wants and needs (don't offer programs people don't want or use)
  4. Find partners who will be willing to supply goods and services for free or at a low cost and find funding sources for payment
  5. Build and train a volunteer base who can help with all of the logistics of the program or hire someone who will be the main point of contact and organization
  6. Make sure you have a way to track and measure what your are providing (including outcomes-which may take time to develop)
  7. Pick a distribution start point, location, and use appropriate communication channels to start advertising (Hands and Feet was able to use local school announcements to being spreading the word about the program)
  8. Hold the first event(s) and review outcomes for improvement for next events; include recipients and community members in the review of the program


  • Food banks
  • Convenience stores
  • Retailers
  • Mental Health Agencies
  • Hospitals
  • Congregants
  • Pharmacies
  • Public Health
  • Medicaid enrollment agencies

Policies, Laws and Regulations

This will vary from place to place. In Hands and Feet's case, the only need was to ensure compliance with local public health laws.

Required Staffing (FTEs)

At a minimum, 0.5 FTE will be needed, plus volunteers for at least 0.1 FTE per week (minimum of at least 8). The number of volunteers needed will depend on the scope and depth of the services provided.

Special Funding

Grant funding to buy bulk food was necessary to scale up the program (original funds came from the existing ECOPW budget, but is now off budget except for the staff salary). Hands and Feet has secured funding from both local philanthropy and Pueblo County agencies to fund the various programs in Hands and Feet.

Special Infrastructure

See materials/equipment for details.

This will vary on what you provide, but having space for storage, a computer for tracking, and transportation for collection/delivery of goods and services will be a bare minimum for success.


Working with a large food bank and community organizing organization can help with the resourcing and activation training needed to successfully carry out this program.

Types of Staff

Food handling and distribution training will be needed, but no other specific credentials are necessary (partner organizations carry their own credentials).

Evaluation Strategies and Data Collection Tools

Right now, tracking is only done through internal spreadsheets which are loaded into Measure What Matters in 100 Million Healthier Lives.

Outcome Measures

  • Food access
  • Well-being (in process of being implemented)

Process Measures

  • Numbers of individuals and families served
  • Zip code locations of participants
  • Pounds of food distributed
  • Value of food distributed

 Related Topics

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Food Access

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Food Security

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Faith-Based Partnerships