This is the fourth year that the Montelores Early Childhood Center is coordinating a school supplies donations drive. But this year is different. The organization is asking that parents apply online in advance to receive school supplies because it anticipates more people face economic hardship because of COVID-19.
The drive-thru pickup event for parents at the Cortez Recreation Center is just over two weeks away, on Aug. 15, but so far, the center has received over 200 applications for an individual child out of 75 families in Montezuma County.
The application also asks parents for income information.
“We know from the data there is a very high economic need,” organizer Katrina Lindus said. Over half the applicants are either low or very low-income for the Montezuma County area. A majority of the applicants are from the Cortez area, but all towns in the county are represented, Lindus said.
According to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the unemployment rate was 3.6% in Montezuma County. This year, the unemployment rate is 10.2%, almost triple what it was last year.
And the labor force in Montezuma County has decreased to 11,500 people, from more than 13,000 a year ago.
In 2019, the Montelores Early Childhood Center gave away over 500 backpacks filled with school supplies, and there is still time for more applications to come in, Lindus said.
But she said she is confident the community will step up to meet the need. Her organization works with the Salvation Army to drum up donations, and last year Montezuma County gathered triple the number of donations that the Salvation Army in Denver did.
The TruWest car dealership in Cortez also is helping to gather donations before the pickup event on Aug. 15 by hosting a “Stuff the Truck” event on Saturday and Aug. 8.
“This community definitely needs some help, and we want to help any way we can,” said Tiffany Hurst, project manager for TruWest.
Many parents in Montezuma County were temporarily out of work, or got laid off because of COVID-19, said Hurst, who used to work for nonprofits in the area.
TruWest will mark and decorate a truck that donors can load with backpacks of school supplies.
“A pack with fully loaded supplies costs about $25,” Lindus said.
The Montelores Early Childhood Center also is partnering with Bombas apparel company to provide students with clean socks. Lindus heard from teachers that some students would arrive to school without socks or wearing dirty socks.
The organization is trying to fill “needs not usually thought about” with their partnerships and outreach efforts, Lindus said.