Undocumented households in search of assist by grocery freebies in southeast Colorado Springs obtain Colorado Springs Information

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Sofia Martinez, a single mother of three school-age children, lived from paycheck to paycheck and stopped by. Now that she lost her job as a housekeeper at a Colorado Springs hotel due to coronavirus shutdowns, her family’s situation is precarious.

“I had enough savings to pay rent and utilities for April, but the rent is due for May soon and I don’t know what to do,” she said through a Spanish-English interpreter. “There are many of us in the same situation.”

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Calls for help during the pandemic from undocumented families living in southeast Colorado Springs, like Martinez, have seen El Paso County be included in a growing list of grocery giveaways, especially for immigrants living here illegally.

“Our employees are suffering,” said Julissa Soto, director of statewide programs for Servicios De La Raza, or Services for the People, a Denver-based nonprofit with two offices in Colorado Springs.

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Undocumented workers are not included in the federal government’s CARES bill, a stimulus package that includes cash distributions and expanded unemployment insurance. Leading organizations like the ACLU office have objected to the restrictions.

Martinez does not have a Social Security number, but taxes are deducted from her paycheck through a government-issued individual tax identification number.

She immigrated to the United States with her parents from Chihuahua, Mexico 30 years ago when she was 14 years old. She lived in Colorado Springs for 23 years but never became a legal resident or naturalized citizen.

“It’s expensive,” she said. “It takes a lot of money to find a lawyer and start the process and my older son tried to help me get a green card, but now the law firms are closed with a lot of cases.”

Martinez went to the first distribution of the new grocery giveaway last week at the Southeast Armed Services YMCA, where Servicios De La Raza has an office.

“It helped,” Martinez said, adding that she has also accessed other food bank programs and that her children, who were born in the United States and are citizens, qualify for the Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which used to be was known as food stamps.

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Colorado Springs Food Rescue, a nonprofit that rescues usable groceries from stores and operations to give to hungry people, is providing the crates containing fresh produce such as eggs, cheese, and vegetables.

Products and other items that require refrigeration are not readily available in food pantries, said Victoria Stone, director of food access for Colorado Springs Food Rescue. But their organization rescues products from grocers like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Sprouts and quickly distributes them to anyone regardless of status.

Before the coronavirus, the organization had distributed free groceries in eight locations in El Paso County. Now all activities at a giveaway location will be brought together in her Helen Hunt office in the Hillside neighborhood.

“Since our original purpose was to provide access, we find that having everything centralized is not beneficial for everyone. Therefore, we support the efforts of Servicios De La Raza,” said Stone.

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Soto says there are an estimated 300 undocumented families living in southeastern Colorado Springs, identified as the poorest area in the city according to statistics from the Census Bureau.

About 100 families have indicated that they need food. The majority, like Martinez, were born in Mexico, though they also represent countries across Central and South America, she said.

“People need to understand that the undocumented community exists and will continue to exist,” Soto said.

Servicios De La Raza offers services regardless of immigrant status or economic or social situation.

The 211 referral line that Pikes Peak United Way operates also has referrals, said spokeswoman Annie Snead. For example, families can apply for utility assistance if they have children with social security numbers and the parents are not using a tax identification number.

Undocumented families can apply to the Society of de Paul for financial assistance through the Churches of St. Mary’s and St. Patrick’s. Central Colorado Catholic charities can assist you with bus passes, gas vouchers, immigration services, naturalization courses, jobs, the Marian House Soup Kitchen, toiletries, clothing and diapers, and other toddler needs.

Mercy’s Gate also provides food for everyone, said Jason Dilger, general manager.

“Our goal is to meet everyone where they are, and we’re not going to let the documentation get in the way,” he said. “The challenge is that partners may ask for documentation, and that’s where companies hit the wall.”

Programs that require a social security number or paperwork to get help scare undocumented people, said Soto, who immigrated to the US in the trunk of a car 20 years ago and is a naturalized citizen because they fear this is a facility for the deportation could be.

According to the US Immigration and Customs Control website, the agency adjusted enforcement during the pandemic to focus on “public safety risks and individuals subject to compulsory detention for criminal reasons,” such as child exploitation, gang involvement , Drug trafficking and human trafficking and terrorism.

ICE agents will not conduct enforcement actions in or near hospitals, doctor’s offices, health clinics and emergency care facilities “except in the most exceptional circumstances,” the website states, adding, “Individuals should not avoid seeking medical care because they fear the enforcement of civil immigration. “

Even so, Martinez said she was even more anxious now because she no longer had a job and had three children at home doing schoolwork on a computer provided by a local school district.

“With all the troubles I fall into a depression,” she said.

A $ 15,000 grant that Servicios De La Raza received Thursday from the Pikes Peak Community Foundation’s Emergency Fund, which raised more than $ 1 million for nonprofits in El Paso and Teller counties that Addressing coronavirus-related needs will help fund mental health services for people like Martinez, Soto said.

Soto’s organization also works with 300 undocumented Latino families with students in Colorado Springs School District 11, Harrison School District 2, and School District 49 through a program called Familia Adelante. The program provides preventive behavioral health education to Spanish-speaking students and families to learn how to better communicate and avoid stress, opioids, gangs and suicide.

“I used to cover up the fact that I was helping the undocumented community, but it’s time to talk about it,” Soto said. “We have to acknowledge the existence of this community and strengthen ourselves and help them.”

The new food distribution for undocumented families is happening weekly at the Southeast YMCA. For times and dates, email [email protected] or call the office at (303) 458-5851.

Other Colorado counties that offer similar undocumented family feeding programs are Arapahoe, Adams, Denver, and Larimer.

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