Two-year-old Alyxandra Isenhart ran through City Auditorium on Thursday morning grinning and clutching a new Barbie toothbrush.
She dodged homeless veterans in need of a haircut and the clean-shaven troops escorting them as she made a beeline for the buffet table.
"Princess! Get back here!" called out her mother, Amanda Isenhart - a female homeless veteran surrounded by a sea of male counterparts.
On Isenhart's back was a bag overflowing with blankets, clothes and toiletries. On her shoulder, a promotional tote doubled as a diaper bag.
In her arms, her 1-year-old daughter, Serena.
In every sense, Isenhart's burdens were heavy.
As the 13-year Army veteran took stock of what she'd collected that morning at the El Paso County Homeless Veterans Coalition's Stand Down, she counted her blessings.
And more homeless veterans were also counting their blessing this year along with her.
Attendance at this year's stand down was up 9 vets over last year, said Dock Revisky, chairman of the El Paso County Homeless Veterans Coalition and a fellow with The Mission Continues, a nonprofit that challenges veterans to serve in their communities.
Donations from individuals were up more than 1,200 percent over last year. In total, the board brought in several thousand more than it did last year, he said.
One organization had promised Isenhart temporary housing so she and her five children wouldn't have to live with a friend - a situation that wasn't working out well.
"They're my concern, not me," said the former Army truck driver, nodding toward her children.
As she sat down to eat, Isenhart appeared ready to shed tears of gratitude.
Recently she moved from Fort Bliss, Texas, to Colorado Springs. She eventually landed a job as a part-time electronics clerk at Wal-Mart, where she's paid a little more than $9 an hour.
In the Army, she made over $21 an hour, she said.
Her savings are depleted, and feeding her children has become a soul-crushing struggle.
"There's not enough food," said Isenhart, adding that she sometimes goes hungry so her children can eat.
It's hard to say whether the slight uptick in this year's attendance is a good thing, organizers said.
"Do you want more homeless veterans?" said Revisky, a former Army field artilleryman.
Because the coalition board member who handled grants for last year's event moved away, the board wasn't able to submit grant applications this year. But individuals and corporations filled the gap.
Their efforts weren't lost on Cole Bank, a former Air Force civil engineer.
Bank attended Thursday's stand down because he had such great memories of last year's, where he received a flu shot, hair cut and clothes.
"I don't feel like I'm being looked down on," Bank said. "I feel like I'm being looked up to and thanked for my service."