Anyone who doesn’t believe the power of the stigma to hold people locked in addiction hasn’t met Darin Valdez or heard his story.
Darin is the founder and executive director of Colorado Artists in Recovery – a Denver-based nonprofit with the mission to help people find their artistic creativity as a pathway to healing from addiction and other mental health challenges. Like a lot of us, Darin’s dedication to helping people is born from his determination to pay it forward. Just a few snowy winters ago, Darin nearly died from exposure as he lived on the streets and battled a debilitating meth addiction.
What kept Darin from getting help? Why did he nearly freeze to death in an outdoor stairwell in December of 2013?
I bumped into a neighbor on a walk a few days ago. She is a good friend and supportive community member. She told me she had been meaning to contact me about our Neighborlies (emergency relief food bags). She wants to participate in our distribution of food to our homeless neighbors here in Denver.
She suggested that maybe I should just tell her what’s in our Neighborlies, and she could buy the ingredients and assemble her own to give away. And that’s when it hit me – a big old cartoon lightbulb went on over my head.
If we refuse to name it, how can we expect to defeat it? That sentiment is popular in the field of stigmatized conditions. It’s also powerful and 100% true.
Stigma is not just an unfortunate side effect – the collateral damage of trying to feel better about ourselves by looking down our noses at the socio-economic layers below us. Stigma is debilitating. It keeps people stuck in otherwise improvable situations because stigma makes not drawing attention to our troubles the highest priority – even higher than getting out of our jam.
The othering of our neighbors – it’s easier to compare and dismiss than it is to engage in compassion and involvement.
Crushing the stigma associated with hunger means one thing: providing food with a heaping helping of dignity and love. And that’s exactly what the LoVVe Project in Virginia Village is doing with the students and families of Ellis Elementary School. This is not just a food pantry. It is a cultural crossroads. It is working together to make everyone stronger.
This is community.
At Stigma, we believe that supporting the LoVVe Project with grass-fed and humanely raised meat, fresh vegetables, Colorado honey, and local fruits is at the core of our mission to crush the stigmas of addiction, hunger and homelessness. It’s how the volunteers at the LoVVe project use the food to connect the community that ensures dignity and makes this project special.
“But these stories don’t mean anything when you’ve got no one to tell them to. It’s true, I was made for you.” -Brandi Carlile
We were overwhelmed by so many of you who expressed interest in The Story Writing Workshops we are hosting at SAME Cafe on Thursday mornings. Even with all the interest we have received, there is still room for people to reserve a spot and come write with us. Here are the details:
“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.” – Anne Frank
Writing is powerful. When we write, we dig deep and discover truths about ourselves that we can’t access simply by thinking or talking. Writing is therapeutic. Writing is inspiring. Writing is freedom and growth.
Come write with us on Thursday mornings at the SAME Cafe!
Do you ever feel helpless because you don’t know how to get involved? Volunteering feels daunting with forms to complete and schedules to negotiate, right? You want to help, but you already feel stuck before you get started.
Become a Stigma Fighter
Here are five easy ways to get involved with Stigma’s work here in Denver serving our neighbors in recovery, or those experiencing hunger and homelessness.
Join our email list today, and you’ll always know of our volunteer opportunities!
Take what you need, give what you can. Food with Dignity!
It started as an idea in the fall shared with us by one of our Stigma volunteers named Sarah. And now, to start this new year, we have deployed the second Fooding Cabinet to get food to people who could use a little neighborly help to make it work right now.
The movie, Elf, is unquestionably one of the greatest Christmas movies of all time. In a scene early in the movie, very early on Christmas morning after he has returned from his annual rounds, Santa congratulates the elves on another successful Christmas. As he concludes his pep-talk, he announces that it is time to get started on making toys for next year. And the elves enthusiastically start pounding away with their little toy-making hammers.
That’s how it feels here at Stigma. We had a very impactful year, but the work never ends, and we are excited to have an even bigger impact in 2021. Just yesterday morning, Monday, December 28th, we found five more rolling suitcases on our front porch that one of you donated. My daughter remarked that the donation came too late. I disagreed. I told her how excited I was to be getting the rolling suitcase and backpack drive for our homeless neighbors for Christmas 2021 off to such a great start!
The new year just brings new challenges. Let’s keep going!
For weeks now, we’ve been collecting rolling suitcases and backpacks to distribute in downtown Denver on Christmas Day. Thanks to the generosity of our awesome Stigma volunteers and donors, we have made great progress toward our goal of 1,000 rolling suitcases and backpacks. But we still have hundreds more to collect, and we need your help.
See what this event is all about. Check out this short video from our rolling suitcases and backpacks distribution from a couple of years ago.