Catherine Eusea’s son was 8-years old on the day he had an appointment that made him late for school at Sarah Milner Elementary in Loveland. His mom delivered him to the office and while she was checking him in asked the school secretary why she had seen so many children on the playground without coats on such a cold day.
“Are they just ornery and refusing to wear coats?” she asked.
“No,” the secretary said. “It’s usually because they don’t have winter coats.”
The secretary’s response bothered Eusea enough that she decided to do something about it.
She learned that some of the teachers had gone together to purchase winter coats, but it was not nearly enough to meet the need. As area manager for First Cal, a residential mortgage company based in California with three offices in Colorado, Eusea is in the business of getting people into homes. “I just really felt compelled that, here we are in the home mortgage business helping people get a home, but there are so many people that are far from having that very basic need, warm clothing.”
She set to work, sending flyers to colleagues and agent offices and posting her plan for a winter coat drive on Facebook. She formed a six-woman team with her assistants and that first year they rounded up nearly 900 coats and delivered them to schools in Fort Collins, Loveland and Greeley.
The next year Eusea Team did the same but were surprised that they weren’t able to match the success of their first year. “Then I realized that we had tapped out our contributors from the year before,” Eusea said.
In 2010 the Eusea Team combined their efforts with Homeless Gear of Fort Collins and moved to a year-round program. Now they deliver donations to Homeless Gear’s Children in Need program that provides everything from clothing to non-perishable food and hygiene and toiletry items for children. HG sets up what looks like a department store where everything is free and invites those in need to shop.
“I noticed that some of the middle and high school students were leaving without any items, Eusea said. “In the future, we need to concentrate on items geared for this age group.”
The Eusea Team’s big push is in August and September and this year they wound up their winter gear drive, the largest ever, with a Halloween celebration for everyone who helped make the drive a success.
Eusea feels fortunate to be able to team up with Homeless Gear. The organization provides them with drop off points and operates a distribution program that makes sure items get to where the need is greatest.
Homeless Gear came into existence because of Ken John. Every time he saw someone pushing a cart or hauling around a black trash bag filled with his or her worldly belongings, he was reminded of the all the outdoor gear in his garage that he was no longer using.
In 2007, John retired as owner of Promats athletic equipment company in Fort Collins and set about sharing the gear he no longer needed with homeless people. In 2008 John gathered and gave away 1,682 items out of the trunk of his car and from the lawn of a local shelter.
Four years later, Homeless Gear distributed $2 million worth of items, 37,500 of them the “big eight” of sleeping bags, pads, tents, frame packs, daypacks, blankets, coats and boots.
In 2015 Homeless Gear was honored by the Colorado governor’s office with the non-profit of the year award. Today the organization operates six different programs and serves as managing partner of Sister Mary Alice Center for Hope in Fort Collins.
Homeless Gear’s programs include Children in Need, to which Eusea Team donates, and a distribution arm that collects and distributes outdoor gear, outerwear, non-perishable food and hygiene products to the homeless.
Street Outreach operates a team that delivers supplies and provides referrals to appropriate agencies for people on the streets. Along with practical advice, they offer hope and companionship.
The Dedicated Navigator program helps people wade through the maze of applications for benefits, funds and services that will help them to move toward self-sufficiency.
Hand Up is a one-on-one counseling and mentorship service that partners with local businesses willing to hire jobless people who fit their needs. They offer help with interview techniques, resume writing and developing the confidence to seek a job. They also operate an extensive career closet for people looking for jobs and those who have just started jobs with the gear and clothing they need. They can supply everything from interview clothing and steel-toed boots to tool belts and vouchers for haircuts.
An important component of their service is the relationship they have developed with 30 local businesses: staffing agencies, landscaping and general labor firms, restaurants and retail and customer service businesses. Through November, Hand Up helped secure 184 jobs, manager Rachel Kirkland said.
The One Village One Family program brings together churches, civic groups, non-profits and business and government leaders who raise funds and work in small groups to provide housing and support for at least six months to allow families to get on their feet and become self-sufficient. Members of the group do more than offer financial support. They become mentors and friends with the families they work with. A tight rental market in Fort Collins makes it more difficult than ever to find affordable housing. In 2014, there were 1,500 people on a waiting list for housing and the list is even longer now.
And Ken John? Stop in some day at Homeless Gear located in the Murphy Center at 242 Conifer St. and you may find him. Eight years later, he still works there.