PUEBLO — The pandemic has shown that caring for one another in a time of need can make a big difference. The Pueblo Cooperative Care Center recognized that and stepped up their efforts to help people rebound over the past year.
The center usually serves about 35,000 people every year, but last year, that number grew to more than 63,000 despite the organization facing some challenges of their own.
Corry Higbee, the executive director for the organization says when the pandemic hit last year, they sent volunteers home for their own safety. They went from having about 130 volunteers to having seven paid workers. However, the organization kept services going and only closed for one day during the pandemic.
"The people that were coming to us for service were not only no income, low income and homeless -- but we started to see everyday people who needed a hand up because they didn't have adequate resources," said Higbee, who mentioned the need looked much different. "We've seen tremendous increase in requests for services, and we see it every day as we advance through this pandemic. We provided more services than we could've ever imagined."
For 39 years, the organization has provided things like food, clothing, city transportation and help paying for medications. Last year, they launched a couple new programs, that were expedited because of the pandemic.
One of them was the mobile shower program, which was used more than 1,000 times for people who didn't have access to hot water or a bathroom.
The organization also launched the Nutrition on Wheel program (NOW) which delivers meals to senior citizens who couldn't leave their homes during the peak of the pandemic. The organization's initial goal was to have 150 people enrolled in the program by year's end. In December, they were able to help more than 730 seniors.
Katherine Salazar is among those who were helped during the pandemic. She's been receiving food and aid from the organization for a decade.
"It's been a blessing due to the fact that there's time in financial struggles that I've delt with," said Salazar. "When I was running out of food stamps and had nothing, I knew that I could rely on them."
The Pueblo Cooperative Care Center is the largest non-profit emergency assistance program in Southern Colorado, and now they're providing a sense of hope during what's been a challenging year for many.
"Our community is really getting together to make sure everybody is taken care of," said Salazar.
"Pueblo is a very caring and giving community. I think that out of everything bad, there does come some things that are good," said Higbee. "This gives our community a chance to re-identify partnerships and relationships that we share between city and county agencies and nonprofit organizations. I think we really rose to the challenge."
The organization doubled the number of staff working in the past year.
The mobile shower hasn't been available since October because it was vandalized and then COVID-19 cases began rising. The resource will return to the community next Wednesday, March 17.
For more information about the organization, click here.