food pantry

A common perception of the Tri-Lakes area is an enclave of wealthy people in half-a-million-dollar homes where no one is poor.

There are a lot of expensive homes, said Haley Chapin, executive director of Tri-Lakes Cares, but the second part of that perception is not true.

“We do have trailer parks, we do have Section 8 housing, we do have duplexes,” she said. “And we even have people who are living in those half-a-million-dollar homes who have used up their savings, used up their 401k” and are struggling.

Many people are “only one or two emergencies away from needing public assistance,” she said.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tri-Lakes Cares, a resource center for emergency, self-sufficiency and relief programs, has been working to keep those people from becoming homeless.

The truly homeless, who are sleeping outside or in their cars, represent only about 5 percent of the nonprofit’s clients.

“Once somebody gets to the point of being truly homeless, usually we recommend that they go down into the Springs, where other agencies are better equipped to serve them,” she said.

Tri-Lakes Cares has seen a huge increase in new requests for its services, Chapin said.

“In December [2020], we saw our highest number of new household engagements since COVID started,” she said.

Financial assistance is in the greatest demand.

In December 2020, the agency saw a 60 percent increase in the number of people requesting financial assistance to pay for housing, compared with November 2020, Chapin said. Compared with December 2019, that number was up 78 percent.

Requests for utility assistance were up 133 percent in December 2020 compared with the previous month and 75 percent above December 2019.

The agency provides financial assistance for transportation issues, such as vehicle repairs, and funds for prescriptions, medical bills and copays..

Tri-Lakes Cares also supplies food for people in need.

The agency’s Monument office is closed for onsite services like the popular food market, where 80-100 families a day shopped for donated and discount-purchased groceries prior to COVID-19.

Instead, the agency has continued and expanded a supplemental grocery program. Clients fill out order forms and pick up their orders outside the office. The program serves about 30 families a day, compared with 8-12 per day before the pandemic.

Tri-Lakes Cares’ funding comes from individual donors, nonprofits, service clubs and businesses, as well as grants and special events. While individual donations and grant revenue have increased, fundraising from special events has dropped drastically during the pandemic.

Individual and business donors often want to contribute in kind to help agencies like Tri-Lakes Cares, Chapin said, but cash donations allow them to be more flexible.

“When people donate a bunch of product, we may not need that product,” she said. “So either by reaching out to ask us what we need, or by giving us cash, we have the ability to obtain what we need on a given day.”

Chapin pointed out that the agency can purchase products at discounted prices at Care and Share that consumers can’t match at the grocery store.

Donors can visit for information about how to donate in cash and to see a list of current pantry needs.

Read more about how local charities are addressing homelessness in the Jan. 22 issue of the Business Journal.