Women Helping Women
Two years ago, Paula Ketchum managed a doctor's office. Now, several surgeries and a downed economy later, she finds herself at the Hunger and Health Coalition looking for help.
"I never thought I'd be here," she said.
But she is here, like the hundreds of other High Country residents who visit the coalition each month to pick up food, get help with bills and, thanks to a group of determined women, stay warm.
"What do you think of this one?" she asked, turning to show off an oversized coat.
With temperatures falling rapidly, it's just one more thing the unemployed woman has to worry about. Not anymore, thanks to a collaboration between the High Country Women's Fund and the Sisterhood of the Temple who started a warm clothing drive at the coalition.
"This one's for my mom," she said. "I have to stand out waiting with her for the bus and it gets cold."
When she sees High Country Women's Fund community outreach coordinator Mary Jo Grubbs sorting through the sweaters, Ketchum can't help stopping for a hug.
"This is just incredible," Ketchum said. "It's a great opportunity."
She was pleasantly surprised to find the coats, right there in the lobby.
"We're so blessed to live here," she said. "People are just wonderful here. They stick by you and stand by you when times are hard."
And hard times are exactly why Grubbs and her cohorts gathered nearly 80 coats and 200 sweaters for their neighbors.
"We've been so spoiled by the weather, but we know it's going to change," she said. "Between rent, heat, food and clothing, they are topped out. We thought it would be great to do a clothing drive this time of year."
And it's still going on. To help, just drop off your coats.
"You pull up, and people just help you unload your car. It's so simple," Grubbs said. "We have such an abundance as people, as women, and it's just time we share what we have."
Ketchum's story is no surprise to Grubbs.
"We had a woman in this morning who has never in her life had to pick up food," she said. "It's so important for women to support women."
Hunger and Health Coalition director Compton Fortuna couldn't agree more. Despite economists publicly saying the recession is over, she's seeing an increase in need.
"It might be getting worse," Fortuna said. "We saw food distribution leveling out ... and then the last couple months it started increasing."
Need has increased 58 percent since last August, including more first-time clients than ever before. Fortuna estimates first-timers have doubled in the past three months alone.
"It's people who have run out of resources," she said. "It's a very difficult time ... I think people here still continue to look for work and work that will sustain them and their families."
The Hunger and Health Coalition, as always, is accepting cash donations, as well as food donations. Clothing, courtesy of the High Country Women's Fund and Sisterhood of the Temple initiative is a welcome addition. Professional clothing will also be collected to help women find and keep jobs.
For more information on the High Country Women's Fund, visit http://www.highcountrywomensfund.org. For more information on the Sisterhood of the Temple, visit http://www.templeofthehighcountry.org. For more information on the Hunger and Health Coalition, visit http://www.hungerandhealthcoalition.com.