20 families, 20 stories of struggle

Douglas/Elbert Task Force is crucial safety net

Jenny Follmer, client services manager for the Douglas/Elbert Task Force, works through the paperwork of the more than 20 families that came in Nov. 26 for assistance.
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It’s in an industrial park on Park Street in Castle Rock — past storage units and a gun shop, and various other shops, in one of those nondescript rectangular buildings, where every day 20 or more families come to get help — many for food, clothing, money so utilities aren’t turned off, so rent can be paid.

Jenny Follmer, the client service manager at the Douglas/Elbert Task Force, 1638 Park St., usually stops at 20 families, a task force rule. The 21st person wanting to sign up to get help is asked to come back the next morning.

But it’s the holidays. “We’re so swamped,” said Follmer, sitting behind a desk that has on it the day’s stack of file folders with 20 families’ paperwork in them.

So even though she’s seen 20 this day, she’s still trying to help three or four more and has calls out to churches and others to see if help is out there — for the family whose electricity has been turned off and the family with seven children whose house has been foreclosed on and they’re being evicted in a couple of days.

Follmer, who has degrees in marketing and Spanish, volunteered here for four years, and liked helping people, so she took a job with the agency more than two years ago, trying to help some more. Sometimes she can, sometimes it’s tough.

This day was some of both. And she goes back through them all. She opens up the first file folder:

First family: A Castle Rock family, renters, mom, fiancé and three kids. The utilities have been turned off. Both adults are in school and have part-time jobs. They have food stamps, but they can’t buy some things with them — toilet paper, toothpaste, diapers. They need help getting their utilities back on and they need food.

Families can get food every 30 days from the task force, and the amount depends on how many people. This family of five leaves with 146 pounds of food, lots of canned goods from the food bank. Food stamps often are used to buy fresh produce.

Like all the other families that day, they’re offered a turkey. All but one family takes one. “They’re desperate for protein,” Follmer said.

Second family: A Highlands Ranch family, renters, two adults and two kids. Never been here before. Wife lost job and has filed for unemployment. Husband has a new job but doesn’t get paid until the end of December.

They have two disconnect notices and need help with their December rent, utilities and need food.

Third family: A Douglas County woman on disability, renter. Her ex-husband came back to Colorado with their three kids and then he left, and left the kids with her.

She has $85 left for bills after she pays the rent. But today, she just needs food.

Fourth family: A Castle Rock woman, who works as a server, and boyfriend, who works, and three children. They make a total of $1,700 a month. They need food and Christmas assistance.

The task force has a family adoption program for the holidays, and has such things as toys for gifts and gift cards so the family can have a special meal. But Follmer said their Christmas assistance is limited. They can’t offer it to everyone.

Fifth family: An out-of-state couple — who left everything including their jobs to come to Colorado after their daughter was in a serious accident — is now living in a hotel.

They have temporary jobs, but can’t make enough to save enough for first month’s rent and deposit. Today, they need food.

Sixth family: A Castle Rock family, grandmother in her 70s, grown daughter and three granddaughters. The daughter works, but the rent is more than half her income.

They come in today for clothing, food and Christmas assistance.

Seventh family: A Castle Rock mothers in 50s with two teens. Because of serious health problems, she lost her job. The older teen had a job, but lost it. There’s no income at all right now.

Today they need food and Follmer tries to find resources for rent assistance.

Eighth family: A Castle Rock mother, a renter, with three kids, living on disability and food stamps, had been awarded significant child support, but hadn’t been receiving it.

She needs help with food, utilities and Christmas assistance.

Ninth family: An Elbert County family, renters, three kids and husband and wife. Husband is facing several surgeries to correct past surgery. He’s in extreme pain, but works off some rent for landlord. Wife is working.

They need help with food and Christmas assistance.

Tenth family: A Castle Rock family, renters. Wife, husband and one teenager. Husband is working. She broke a bone and currently can’t work.

They come in for food. “All of these people are just scraping by,” Follmer said.

Eleventh family: A Castle Rock family, long-term task force clients. Four adults, five kids, extended family. Two of the adults are working, and one has seasonal work.

They come in for food and Christmas assistance.

Twelfth family: A Parker grandmother, raising her grandchild after daughter passed away. She’s living on Social Security and disability. She comes in for food and has a disconnect notice, so she needs help with utilities, and gets Christmas assistance.

Thirteenth family: A Castle Rock homeowner, never been in before. Recently divorced and lost job when company closed down. Husband hadn’t been paying bills he said he’d pay. At this point, she just needs utilities assistance.

She filed for unemployment in October but still hasn’t received any money. She’s been interviewing for jobs and was particularly excited about a recent interview.

Fourteenth family: A Castle Rock couple and one child, renters, come in for food and Christmas assistance.

“When more than half of their incomes goes toward rent … the money is eaten up pretty quickly,” Follmer said.

Fifteenth family: A Castle Rock woman on disability, a renter. She’d like to work an hour or two a day, but Follmer shakes her head about that possibility.

The woman is on oxygen 24 hours a day. She comes in for food.

Sixteenth family: A Castle Rock man in early 20s, homeless. He couch-surfs; sometimes he’s out in the elements by Plum Creek or other places. Douglas County doesn’t have transitional housing or a shelter. He comes in every few months.

This time he comes for food and clothing. He’s doing temp work and trying to get stable housing. But the task force gives a one-time $250 to help with first month’s rent and deposit. Follmer doesn’t want him to waste that if he’s not at the point where he can financially keep a place.

Seventeenth family: A Castle Rock couple and one teenager, renters, both work. But rent is more than half of their income.

They make too much for food stamps. They come in for food.

Eighteenth family: A Castle Rock couple and baby, renters. He works. She’s home with the baby. They come in every couple of months.

Today they need food and some Christmas assistance.

Nineteenth family: A Castle Rock man, 50s, just released from jail, the Douglas County Justice Center. Follmer said the jail releases people with nothing, no money, no transportation, so released inmates generally walk the couple miles to the task force to get help. This man got a ride from a local mental health agency.

From Follmer, he gets some food and a couple days lodging at a motel. From there, he’s trying to get his job back, and reaching out to friends. Whatever family he has is estranged.

Twentieth family: A Parker couple and one child live in a motor home on a relative’s property. They both work, but jobs are dependent on weather conditions. They come in for food.

That was Nov. 26 at the task force.

But that’s every day at the task force, Follmer said.

And when she walks into her own home, she counts her blessings.

To learn more about the task force, go to http://www.detaskforce.org/about/.