Providers of low-income help say they need help

Integrated Family Community Services has big mission as donations decline

Posted 11/5/18

A staple of low-income assistance for families in the south metro area says if things don't change soon, it may have to make large cuts to its operation. Amid funding cuts and challenging attitudes …

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Providers of low-income help say they need help

Integrated Family Community Services has big mission as donations decline

Posted

A staple of low-income assistance for families in the south metro area says if things don't change soon, it may have to make large cuts to its operation.

Amid funding cuts and challenging attitudes toward donating to Integrated Family Community Services — which serves Englewood, Centennial, Glendale, Highlands Ranch, Littleton, Lone Tree, Sheridan and unincorporated Arapahoe County — the organization that serves thousands of families and individuals is looking to bridge the gap.

“The reality is, in the future, if the climate doesn't change, we're going to be too poor to help the poor,” said Todd McPherson, a leader of Integrated Family, which is located in the southwest Denver metro area. “The next year will really show what direction we need to go.”

The nonprofit, once known as Inter-Faith Community Services, doesn't plan to close its doors, but it's in dire straits as it takes in less money from local governments and continues an uphill battle to make its mission clear to the south metro area. Integrated Family provides food, rent assistance, clothes and even help with bus tickets, gas gift cards and medical prescriptions. Its services also include support for crime victims and transitional housing for the homeless.

But because the list is so long, it's a challenge to build a recognizable brand — although it served more than 16,000 individuals during the 12 months ending Aug. 31, Integrated Family still needs to get the word out, McPherson said. Its troubles come amid an increasingly prominent homelessness issue in the Englewood area in recent years and sky-high housing costs throughout the metro area.

“If you think of Goodwill, Arc, Salvation Army or the Denver Rescue Mission, people have a basic idea” of what they do, said McPherson, the nonprofit's development director. “But for us, it gets complex because you have to tell this big story.”

What's more, the change from “Inter-Faith” to “Integrated Family” has made establishing connections even harder — and even alienated some partners who pitched in because of the perceived religious ties, McPherson said.

“People believed all along that we were something we weren't,” said McPherson, noting the nonprofit has connected with atheists, Jews, Muslims and Christians.

Integrated Family doesn't want to push away, for example, gay people or those of other religions who might have pause in interacting with the organization had it kept “faith” in its name, McPherson added. It's gotten some backlash from the religious community for the change, which happened in January 2016, but it made the switch partly to address the issue that “interfaith” is difficult to translate into other languages.

“It's a Catch-22,” McPherson said. “If we were called something different in the '60s, who knows.”

Integrated Family grew out of an effort by community leaders in a garage, McPherson said, and it has come a long way since its establishment in 1964 — it spent more than $1.1 million in the 12 months ending Aug. 31 distributing meals, handing out backpacks and school supplies, and helping families in need in several other ways, including its holiday programs. For Thanksgiving, it provides more than 650 baskets, each with more than 30 food items like stuffing, yams and a “turkey gift card,” and for December holidays, those in need receive food and gifts.

One family who signed up for the holiday programs this year was Kim May, Jeremy Dupree and their 7-year-old son, Chad Kolak, who sat in the nonprofit's waiting area Oct. 30. Dupree, 44, has a seasonal job operating heavy equipment, and May, 43, cleans houses. They have two other boys, too, and live in Centennial.

“When we signed up, we thought it was just for the holiday package,” May said. “We didn't know they had all this.”

May grew up in Arvada, and as a native here, she feels like she might have to move out of the area, May said.

Asked what her family needs most, she simply said: “Food.”

Other metro-area organizations that help families like May's are feeling the financial squeeze, too, McPherson said, either closing or cutting parts of their programs to survive. Denver Urban Matters and the Fresh Harvest Food Bank in Lone Tree are two examples, he said.

Charitable giving increased nationally in recent years, McPherson said, but for Integrated Family, it has declined. Political and demographic changes could be factors, but it's difficult to know what drives the trends, he added.

People can contact the nonprofit and ask about ways to help, McPherson said, but the best way in this season may be to give cash donations.

“People with good intentions want to give stuff,” such as physical items like clothes, but Integrated Family needs more funding to stay stable, McPherson said. That's partly because 90 cents of every dollar donated to it goes to programs and services.

It's all to keep people from falling through the cracks, McPherson said.

“We're here to stand in the gap,” he said.

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