MONTROSE – Elizabeth Ross and Rosita Lujan wash their clothes and bath in the cold waters of the Uncompahgre River because they don't have much choice as a homeless couple living in Montrose.
That was until now.
The Shepherd's Hand, a soup kitchen that opened just before Christmas, finished remodeling its bathrooms at its home inside the Mexican American Development Association building at 17 N. Sixth St. in Montrose.
As the former location of Christ's Kitchen, the space is great for the new organization, and with MADA in the same building and with a similar goal to reach those in need, a partnership between the two organizations has sparked, said Garey Martinez, founder of The Shepherd's Hand.
Martinez's goal with the new nonprofit organization is simple: provide homeless people with a place to get hot soup, keep warm, shower and wash clothes, while also providing them with support to get on their feet.
MADA offers welfare services such as assistance in paying utility bills and providing clothing and blankets.
“We are very excited,” MADA Executive Director Beth Reiderler said about her new tenants. “The same people were coming here anyway, so it gives more structure to them. … The activities fit well together and we are glad to have the soup kitchen.”
The need for such a facility is evident in the 30 to 60 people who take advantage of the new organization on a regular basis.
“This is a lot closer for a lot of people. It was hard to get clear across town,” Ross said.
The building housed Christ's Kitchen for many years, but that organization outgrew the facility and last spring, moved to a bigger location on South Townsend Avenue.
This caused some problems for the homeless population, such as in the case of Ross and Lujan, as many of them live in the woods along the Uncompahgre River, Martinez said.
“It allows us to stay out of the cold, eat and get clothes,” Lujan said.
But that is not all the facility will provide – Martinez has more plans in the works.
The Shepherd's Hand has got Wi-Fi, as well as a donated computer, printer and fax for visitors to use. It also was donated a new washer and dry and the Montrose County Sheriff's Office provided the center with its old lockers. Those lockers are being used to store belongings, as well as provide a physical addresses of 17 N. Sixth St. – number one through 16 – for those who don't have a home.
“For individuals applying for jobs, it's hard to get past the door if they don't have an address or phone number,” Martinez said.
The Shepherd's Hand has its own phone line, which allows its users to get calls and voice messages.
The facility is currently open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days a week. It provides hot drinks and snacks in the morning around 9 a.m., then serves a hot meal, usually soup, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., and at 3 p.m., provides another snack. Anyone who shows up hungry outside the serving hours will be given something to fill their belly, Martinez said.
And there is more.
Martinez currently has about 40 volunteers who work all sorts of hours. Once he gets around 100 volunteers, he plans to make The Shepherd's Hand a daily service.
“It's going to be great because it's helping so many people on this side of town,” kitchen coordinator Donna Harrison said.
The Shepherd's Hand does have expenses and is taking donations to help pay for those costs.
Although it rents the facility for only $1 per year, it must pay for any utility expenses that are over what MADA was paying.
And Martinez is working with local churches and motels so he can provide a place for the homeless to sleep on bad-weather nights.
Through either a voucher program or by renting a monthly room, Martinez is hopping to collect donations to pay for those expenses, he said.
“This (The Shepherd's Hand) is a big project, so we've split it in half,” he said. “We've been fortunate not to have extreme winter weather, but we are going to get it.”
Last week, donations allowed Martinez to put a mother and her kids into a motel room for the night, and he hopes he'll be able to continue to help in that way.
“We are at the bottom of the ladder and going up – and we are going up,” he said.
For more information, to donate or to volunteer, call Martinez at 970/433-3690.
The organization is holding an grand opening and open house on Feb. 7 from 3 to 7 p.m. at The Shepherd's Hand. The entire community is invited.