When Ray Hogge fell into hard times, Westside Cares Chief Executive Officer Kristy Milligan helped him turn his life around.
“I wanted to get away from living on the street and Kristy helped me to do that. Kristy even attended court with me when I got into trouble, supporting me however she could. Thanks to her, I now have a job painting houses and am getting my life together,” Hogge said.
Westside Cares is an ecumenical/interfaith nonprofit collaboration of more than 20 religious fellowships on El Paso County’s Westside, providing crisis services for needy citizens. Through its partnership with the Empty Stocking Fund, the organization assists needy citizens, operates six food pantries, and provides financial and medical assistance to special seasonal programs referrals.
Milligan is impressed and inspired by Empty Stocking Fund donors whose contributions support all services offered to needy neighbors. From rent assistance to community clean-ups, to healthy food at six pantries across the westside, everyday heroes are touching the lives of thousands of neighbors, Milligan said.
“Last year’s funds covered nearly half of our annual pantry operations, allowing us to serve 10,000 people in the region,” Milligan said of the ESF.
WC’s services fall into three categories: preventing homelessness, meeting basic needs and creating community. Its homeless prevention services (rent assistance, utilities assistance, financial counseling) benefit the community by keeping hardworking individuals stably housed, thereby battling the poverty cycle, Milligan said.
Emergency services (clothing, food, hygiene, laundry, registered nurse visitations) help neighbors weather financial crises and create savings in their budgets. This allows folks to dedicate resources to emergent needs, such as a death in the family, eviction or job loss.
Other services, such as special holiday programs and a weekly hot meal, allow people of diverse economic means to engage in authentic relationships that affirm the dignity of both parties. The four-day food baskets at six pantries throughout the region is their most popular program. About 400 volunteers assisted the pantries with serving 22,000 neighbors last year alone, Milligan said.
“While we don’t have any age targets for our programming, so far this year, a third of the neighbors served at our pantries were children under 18, representing a lot of families that access Westside Cares services,” Milligan said. “In 2018, we will serve 22,000 to 25,000 neighbors, thanks in large part to the foundational support of the ESF.”
According to Milligan, WC has added more programs to its services portfolio. Through its partnership with Penrose-St. Francis, WC hosts a weekly doctor’s clinic, and conducts financial counseling and community clean-ups. A monthly “Coffee with the CEO,” a vehicle through which WC neighbors can inform organizational programming, also has been added.
“We also recently completed a remodel of our facility, the final phase of our successful capital campaign, to bring the service areas into compliance with ADA (American Disabilities Act) standards and create a welcoming atmosphere for our neighbors,” Milligan said.
Milligan wants citizens to know Westside Cares programs are aimed at stabilizing people in various circumstances and affirming the dignity of each of its neighbors, whether they require or are giving help to someone else.
“Supportive services benefit the community by saving taxpayer dollars that would otherwise be spent on increased need for medical care, re-housing people experiencing homelessness, and government-subsidized benefits,” Milligan said.
Hogge can’t say enough about WC and ESF services. “Kristy went above and beyond. Whenever I need something, I can count on her to be there for me,” Hogge said.