By Caitlin Switzer

MONTROSE-Patty Ray can’t help bringing her work home with her.

Ray, who owns and operates Hug-A-Bear Child Care & Learning Center in Montrose, is also raising two adopted and two foster children–all between the ages of three and seven–in addition to two grown children of her own. Ray is very familiar with the economic challenges parents face now that the 2014-2015 school year has begun.

“My foster kids came to me with no shoes, no socks, and no clothes,” she said. “It was a case of abuse and neglect–there was half an inch of grime on the bottom of the tub after the first bath. But they are happy and clean now, and we are scrambling to get school supplies!”

Montrose County Health & Human Services has been very helpful, she noted, but the County has limited funds and needs the support of the community.

And when it comes to paying for school supplies, “Foster care kids all over are in dire need,” Ray said. “There are lots of bigger teens in foster care, and they need school supplies too.

“So if you want to help, pick an age, go get a backpack, fill it with school supplies and bring it over to Health and Human Services (1845 South Townsend Avenue).”

Overall, things seem to be improving for local kids and their families, said Ray, who takes both public assistance and private-pay clients at her child care facility.

“My private-pay numbers are rising,” she said. “The kids and families seem to be coming out of the worst of it. Parents are getting jobs, things are leveling off-the majority of our parents here are working or in school. I just hope that as we head into winter, we won’t see employers cutting back.”

For those who are still in financial trouble, resources are stretched thin. According to the 2014 Colorado Children’s Campaign Kids Count data, of 40,786 Montrose County residents counted in 2012, 9,770 were under age 18. Births to single women made up 26.1 percent of babies born here that year. The percentage of local children qualifying for free or reduced lunches was 54 percent in 2013, while in 2012 the percentage of children under age 18 living in poverty was 25 percent.

In neighboring Delta County, the numbers paint a similar picture.  Of 30,528 local residents counted in 2012, 6,562 were under age 18. Births to single women made up 28 percent of babies born that year. The percentage of local children qualifying for free and reduced lunches was 50.8 percent, while in 2012 the percentage of children under age 18 living in poverty was 23.5 percent.

For those who can afford to help, donations are always needed at the Sharing Ministries Food Bank, at 1221 North Rio Grande in Montrose.  The Food Bank is open from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 P.M. Monday through Friday, Sharing Ministries Director Oneda Doyal said.

“There is always a need in summer, when the kids are out of school,” Doyal said. “People start to line up here at 7:30 a.m., and the moms who are bringing kids with them always go to the shelves and find something for them to eat right away, because they are hungry.”

Though donations tend to be strongest over the Holiday season, the need to feed hungry children is not seasonal.

“When you are looking at a child, you don’t always see that they are hungry,” Doyal said. “But some of them go all day and all night with nothing to eat. Food stamp numbers are down, and often there are two parents out of work rather than just one. And people think because we are in a rural area there is less hunger, but in actuality there is more hunger here and far fewer resources here than in other areas.”

Summertime is also the best time to find fresh, locally grown produce at the Food Bank, she said.

“We are able to give out more fresh produce, and not rely so much on canned and processed foods,” Doyal said. “But this time of year can be the toughest.”

For families with children who are in need of transitional housing, the Olathe non-profit Haven House (970-323-5280) offers a program designed to help families’ achieve a sustainable lifestyle. For those in need of emergency overnight shelter, however, Delta’s Abraham Connection, which opens for the season Nov. 1, is the only option between Grand Junction and Durango.

Options for overnight shelter may be limited, but the need continues to increase, Abraham Connection President Cheryl Oeltjenbruns said.

“The homeless problem is growing,” Oeltjenbruns said. “There is definitely a gap with the economy.”

Abraham Connection has been raising funds for a permanent shelter facility, and is within $116,000 of the amount needed to break ground.

“We are very, very close,” Oeltjenbruns said. “Please consider buying a brick, or making a general donation.”

The shelter, which does not have paid staff except during the season (Nov. 1-April 30), is seeing an urgent need for volunteers right now, she said.

“We are always in need of volunteers to help run the shelter, provide meals, help with laundry and to take the night shift,” Oeltjenbruns said.

Abraham Connection can be reached at 970-773-8290.