Empty Stocking Fund

J.P., a heavy equipment operator, had to give up work because of five surgeries. The 59-year-old father of three usually manages to get by on disability income. But this year, with the rising cost of food, utilities, medical co-payments and other expenses, he needed help.

Then, one Sunday at church he heard about Mercy’s Gate.

His family was able to partake of the charity’s food pantry and staff provided referrals to a utilities assistance program and other services. The aid has alleviated his financial struggle.

The charity partners with churches and other organizations to prevent homelessness, and convert crisis to hope, explained Jason Dilger executive director.

The focus is on the working poor, many of whom live from paycheck to paycheck

The charity takes a holistic approach addressing financial, physical, emotional, relational, spiritual and educational needs.

There are a wide array of services such as rent and mortgage assistance, medical and prescription help, clothing vouchers, referrals to education programs and legal aid.

One major crisis can be devastating financially, sending even those who are working into a downward spiral of unrelenting poverty, said Rose Artuso, program director.

Low-income workers can find themselves struggling when employers cut their hours or lay them off from seasonal jobs. Other vulnerable groups are those with large medical bills, and senior citizens on fixed incomes who don’t have financial cushions.

“Sometimes for the working poor it comes down to whether they should buy food, pay the doctor bill, or pay rent,” Artuso said.

At the first of the month when rent and house payments are typically due, at least 100 people or more crowd into Mercy’s Gate’s offices seeking relief.

“It’s brutal here in the city. There’s a housing shortage, and some landlords take advantage of that,” said Artuso. One client, for example, had his rent raised from $650 to $850.

Mercy’s Gate, founded in 1982, calls clients “neighbors,” emphasizing the sense of community. The coverage area includes the 15 ZIP codes in north and central El Paso County, which includes 70 percent of the population.

The charity is faith-based,, but faith is not required for those needing services.

“We are a compassion service, we offer a welcome space where people can come and have a meal, pray, talk to someone, find hope,” Artuso said.

Dilger said Mercy’s Gate provides a safe space. “Sometimes they just need not to feel isolated. Maybe they are struggling to stay in college, or can’t find a job. They feel deflated. It helps that they don’t feel alone in these challenging of times.”

J.P., the former equipment operator, said, ”It’s phenomenal. They treat you very well here. No bad looks or making you feel bad for getting help.”

He feels spiritually uplifted, too. I’m Christian, but they don’t push it on you. But I always ask them to pray with me after I receive their help,” he said. “It’s comforting.”

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