Cindy Irvin’s presence at the Cortez Good Samaritan Center for 32 years was a blessing for thousands of needy families and individuals.
Her dedication and spiritual approach to the job brought comfort, food, clothing and guidance — a gracious hand up for those experiencing tough times.
Irvin seems ageless, her soft smile and piercing eye contact makes one want to straighten up and fulfill God’s plan to be your best.
The combination of empathy — ingrained since she started giving away her toys to the poor at age 7 — and tough love is simultaneously inspiring and exhausting, an emotional roller coaster.
“Letting go is very powerful,” Irvin says of retirement. “The job has a high burnout factor, usually five years.”
Looking back, she’s seen it all: Hardworking families devastated by medical crisis and car accidents, sudden homelessness from job loss, lives ruined by drug and alcohol addiction, and freeloaders who expect a handout and don’t even say thank you.
Depending on your attitude and lot in life, you might make her “prayer list” a spiritually vetted group Irvin gets a gut feeling about.
“I can just tell there is something good, some hope in them that will prevail. Eight on my list kicked their addiction to drugs,” she says proudly.
But the Good Samaritan Center could not have survived this long with out the commitment of volunteers, community givers, generous grocery stores, and local churches. And it takes a special type of person, someone who is not willing to “cast the first stone,” as the biblical message says.
“If they looked down on the clients, I’d pray for another volunteer, and that usually worked,” Irvin said. “It’s a Christian ethos. For the difficult clients, love them with the love of the Lord.”
Before the center opened, area churches donated to the needy, but there was no coordination, Irvin recalls. Centralizing donations helped to keep track of clients better, and is more convenient.
In addition to being a faithful servant, Irvin has political chops, as well.
“It is the job of churches to take care of the poor. When the government takes that over, it makes churches lazy,” she says.
Loving your neighbor and discouraging panhandling also are part of her philosophy.
“This country suffers from a form of spiritual poverty. People don’t even know their neighbors, people right next door who are suffering. A community should find people who need help,” she said.
Handing out money to panhandlers does not help, she believes.
“It gives them the wrong message; it spurs them to be beggars instead of doing something to better themselves,” she said.
But the exception may be the mentally disabled who especially need our compassion because some are incapable of holding a job, often leading to a hard life on the streets for them and their kids.
“They can be good at getting hired, but they don’t have the mental faculties to take orders, follow through and do the job day to day,” she said. “Have a heart; for some it is just impossible.”
The Good Sam Center has kept files on its clients since 1981, and they now total more than 6,000. They have transitioned to a more basic charity organization, dropping the clothing donations and focusing on food and social services. Each year the center gives away $100,000 worth of food, which is dependent on donations.
Irvin has praise for the new director and is overcome with gratitude.
“God sent Kristen Tworek to fill my shoes, and she will keep the Spirit of God moving through the days ahead,” Irvin said during a retirement party. “Thank you all, my young and old, hearts of gold, ornery jokesters, food bearers, organizers, criticizers, whole wits, halfwits, and misfits.
I will now be free, reading a houseful of books and going to the library when I need more.”
The Good Samaritan Center’s new location is at 25. S. Beech, P.O. Box 662, Cortez, Colo. 81323. It is open from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 565-6424.