EDWARDS, Colorado - It's tough out there, and the local Salvation Army and other relief agencies don't need a government agency to tell them that.
That makes it a sin to walk past a Salvation Army bell ringer without dropping some cash in the kettle.
They're hoping to double last year's kettle collections because they're spending so much more to help local families, said Tsu Wolin-Brown, executive director of the local Salvation Army.
They're gonna need it.
More that 300 families came through the Salvation Army's Santa Store last weekend. At the other end of the valley, the Masons in Eagle will host their own Santa store next week.
For most of those families, it means Christmas will show up. The toughest part for many is, after so many years providing help, they now have to ask for it.
The Salvation Army has been helping between 400 and 500 families each month. They're up to more than 600 a month the past few months. They've handed out more than 600 boxes of food, 630 Thanksgiving boxes and will distribute more than 700 holiday boxes for Christmas.
"A lot of people who were giving support are now asking for help," said Tsu Wolin-Brown, the local Salvation Army's executive director. "They're often so embarrassed, but they really need the help."
The Salvation Army hands out around $4,000 a month on benevolence - rent, car repairs, utilities bills - things that can smack down a struggling family, Wolin-Brown said. They spend another $100,000 a year on food.
Last year they had 500 families apply for their Adopt a Family program. They had 200 sponsor families signed up to help them.
This year they tried the Santa Shoppe and ran it in Battle Mountain High School. Parents could pick out a couple toys for each child. High school students and dozens of other volunteers pitched in.
Some toy suppliers gave them close-out priceS. Vail Valley Cares gave them $10,000 and a second homeowner gave them $53,000 worth of toys - fire trucks, little kitchens. Santa showed up in a 53-foot semi truck.
They do it all with two employees. Volunteers do everything else.
"That's the only way we can keep things going. We couldn't do it without our wonderful volunteers," Wolin-Brown said.
A couple bankers do their books and expenses. A volunteer coordinates the bell ringers. Another helps run the food pantry. Kristine Perry, a senior at Battle Mountain High School, comes by most afternoons after school - doing whatever needs to be done at the time.
"It opened my eyes to what I didn't realize was in the valley. There is very real poverty here," Perry said.
The Vail Salvation Army's goal is to stabilize living conditions by providing food, shelter and housing, utility assistance and basic needs for families and individuals who are temporarily unable to provide for themselves.
"We're here to help people who've hit a rough patch," said Dan Smith, chairman of the board. "We try to play an end game. Are they in housing that's too expensive for them, is there some solution we can find that can keep this problem from recurring? We work toward some resolution of the issue, even though it might not be immediate. We also partner with other agencies."
The Vail Valley Salvation Army was established in Eagle County in 1984 to help stranded motorists. That year, they helped six families. This year it'll be more than 100 times that many.
The local Salvation Army gets no money from national or regional organizations, raising all its own money.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or email@example.com.