Christine Bucher

The Numbers Game – What does it mean?

A frequent question we get at Tri-Lakes Cares is how people qualify for services such as food and rental assistance. The answer is if they make 185% of the federal poverty guideline and reside within our service territory, they are eligible for assistance. But what does 185% of the federal poverty guideline mean?

It can be complicated. Let’s see if we can make it easier.

Every year the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issues “poverty guidelines” based on household size (1 to 8). These guidelines are updated annually from the “latest published weighted average poverty thresholds using the Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers.” The poverty thresholds are calculated by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Consumer Price Index, a statistic produced by the Department of Labor.

The poverty guidelines, or percentage multiples of them (125%, 150%, 175% or 185%), are used as a method to determine eligibility for federal government assistance programs. In addition, state and other local governments may use some part of the poverty guidelines and percentages to determine eligibility for state or local assistance programs.

Are you confused yet? It took me visits to four different government websites and one research institute website to just glean the information above. You can see links at the end of this post.

So, how does this work? Let’s take the example of the Smiths, a family of four residing in El Paso County, Colorado, trying to qualify for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, commonly known as “food stamps.” According to the most recent poverty guidelines published on January 25, 2016, the Smiths are considered to be living in poverty if their annual income is $24,300 or less.

Per the El Paso County Department of Human Services, to be eligible for SNAP, the Smiths would have to earn a monthly gross income of $2,628 (which is 130% of poverty) and a monthly net income of $2,012 (100% of poverty) or less. (Per the county, gross income means a household’s total, non-excluded income, before any deductions have been made. Net income means gross income minus allowable deductions.) The annual gross income for the Smiths is $31,526 which is $27,303 dramatically below the $58,829 annual gross income needed to be considered self-sufficient. (The self-sufficiency figure is from the 2015 Colorado Self-Sufficiency Standard report prepared for and issued by the Colorado Center on Law and Policy. **) Based on this calculation, they would qualify for benefits. However, benefits aren’t always guaranteed just on this metric alone as other factors may come into play as well. But that is a whole different story. Back to Tri-Lakes Cares.

Tri-Lakes Cares uses the poverty guidelines in a similar manner. In order to qualify for financial assistance (i.e. anything that would require a check for things such as rental assistance, secondary education tuition or help with medical bills), a client would qualify if their income is 185% of the poverty guidelines. For the Smiths, the annual poverty guideline is an annual income of $24,300. 185% of this amount is $44,955, meaning their income needs to be equal or less than this amount in order to qualify for financial assistance at Tri-Lakes Cares. As in the example above, this income falls almost $14,000 short of the $58,829 self-sufficiency standard. And, considering that the median income for El Paso County is $73,000 and the Tri-Lakes area even higher, the Smiths would struggle to make ends meet.

For the various food programs at Tri-Lakes Cares other percentages are used, some which are set by the federal government such as the TEFAP (Commodities) program or internally by Tri-Lakes Cares. Because senior citizens are such a vulnerable population, living on fixed incomes and with little opportunity to increase their income, the percentage may be calculated at a higher rate. Children who receive food through the “Snack Pack” program are already qualified by receiving free or reduced price breakfast and lunches at school at income levels set by federal guidelines. And, there are always special and limited-time circumstances which may account for “beyond the basic rules” of receiving assistance.

Rest assured that the Paula and Michael, our Case Managers, work closely with all of the individuals and families to determine eligibility and to make sure all of our resources and donor-dollars are used in the most efficient manner.

** Watch for a future blog posting about self-sufficiency – what it is, how it is calculated and what the salary requirements are to meet it.


Reference links:

https://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty-guidelines (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services)

http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/about/overview/measure.html (U.S Census Bureau)

http://www.irp.wisc.edu/faqs/faq1.htm (Institute for Research on Poverty)

http://www.colorado.gov (State of Colorado)

http://dhs.elpasoco.com/Pages/FoodAssistance.aspx (El Paso County, Department of Human Services)

Helping End Childhood Hunger

By Kate Lythgoe, Food Programs Manager

Are there ever times when the food for you and your family just isn’t enough but there isn’t any money to buy more? You may be food insecure.

What does this mean? Being food insecure (or having food insecurity) means you aren’t able to purchase food or have access to food resources, such as living in an area where the nearest grocery store is several miles away and you don’t have reliable transportation to get there. A family is food insecure they live in hunger or have a fear of starvation. They don’t know when their next meal will be or if they have to choose between paying rent or buying groceries.

During a recent screening of American Winter, an HBO produced movie which follows 8 families in Portland, Oregon struggling to make ends meet during the economic down-turn of 2008, a mother said she would skip eating lunch so her children could. This upset the children because they wanted to make sure Mom had enough to eat. The oldest daughter (age 11) made sure Mom would take her lunch with her to work by putting post-it notes all over the house to remind her.

This reflects how particularly devastating food insecurity can be for children. It increases their vulnerability, their sense of instability and the potential for long-term consequences. It also impacts their physical development since inadequate nutrition can permanently alter a child’s brain architecture and stunt their intellectual capacity, affecting the child’s learning, social interaction and productivity. Children who do not receive what they need for strong, healthy brain development during early childhood may never recover their lost potential for cognitive growth and eventual contributions to society.

The White House Council of Economic Advisors has released a report that indicates SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), commonly known as food stamps, has a huge benefit for kids. Nearly half (44%) of all people who participate are children, and families with kids receive 67% of all SNAP benefits. Food insecurity rates among kids falls by 33% after families have been receiving benefits for about six months (No Kid Hungry).

Kids who receive SNAP benefits are healthier, do better in school and are more likely to focus and behave in class. Kids who have access to SNAP benefits are 18% more likely to graduate from high school, and when kids are well nourished, their test scores go up (No Kid Hungry).

While SNAP benefits make a tremendous difference in our children, it just isn’t enough. Toward the end of the month, when SNAP benefits are spent and food budgets are tapped, test scores drop and discipline problems rise. No Kid Hungry research shows as much as an 11% increase in disciplinary action between the first and last week of the month for kids from low income families.

This gap between the first week and the last week of the month is what we aim to bridge at Tri-Lakes Cares.

Tri-Lakes Cares was originally founded in 1984 as a food pantry and our food programs continue to be the cornerstone of service. Tri-Lakes Cares operates three food programs that have, and will continue to, support children living in northern El Paso County.

  1. Help Yourself

Fresh produce, dairy, eggs and bread are donated by Care and Share, Monument King Soopers, Monument Safeway, Monument Natural Grocers, Hwy 105 Kum & Go, Interquest Kum & Go, Northgate 7-11, Academy Which Wich, Briargate Panera and Northgate Kneaders. Their donations are distributed every Monday and Thursday during our client service hours. Due to the generosity of these donors and the perishable nature of the food items, clients can visit the Help Yourself program twice a week.

  • 160 kids were impacted by Help Yourself at least once in February 2016
  1. Supplemental Grocery Program

Once a month, eligible clients select grocery items from a standard list to provide a week’s worth of groceries, supplementing their pantry shelves at home. Their selected items are packed by volunteers who devote time to weigh, sort and pack food and sundries.

  • 90 kids with their families benefited from at least one supplemental grocery order in February 2016
  1. Snack Pack

Once a week during the school year, our Snack Pack program is available to enrolled low-income students (K through 8th grade) at nine of District 38 schools. These are students who receive no-cost or reduced breakfast and lunch at school and who have been referred by school counselors. The Snack Pack program is intended to help children have food over the weekends.

  • 337 kids receive snack packs each week

Here are two Case Manager Testimonies about our clients:

Sam* is married with five children. There were some unexpected surprises recently (medical expense, fewer hours at work, and a raise in school fees) that were really stressing the family out. They came into receive Help Yourself, Supplemental Grocery, and to see the nurse. Because of the food assistance TLC offered, they didn’t have to receive financial assistance. Sam’s family was able to pay the bills with their own income!

Deena* is married with four children. One parent works part-time and their spouse has been in and out of a couple of jobs. The family is receiving Medicaid but they didn’t think they qualified for SNAP. Case Manager Paula encouraged the family to apply. They applied for SNAP and are now receiving benefits. Deena said their family is so grateful for TLC and the services that they have received, especially the food. Paula can report that they are no longer food insecure. Deena’s family is now spreading the word to other families about Tri-Lakes Cares and SNAP!

* Names changed to protect privacy

Tri-Lakes Cares is a community based, volunteer supported resource center whose purpose is to improve people’s lives through emergency, self-sufficiency and relief programs. As the only food pantry and human services organization located in and serving the Tri-Lakes region of Northern El Paso County, we are a critical resource for those in need. How can you help us aid these families?

  1. Donate Financially
  2. Host a Food Drive
  3. Volunteer
  4. Educate others

For more information on our Food Programs, contact Kate Lythgoe, Food Programs Manager, at 719.481.4864 x111 or FoodProgramsManager@tri-lakescares.org

If you need help with food, or have other needs, please contact a Case Manager today!

Mike (Last Names ending A-L): 719-481-4864 x 102
Paula (Last Names ending M-Z): 719-48-14864, x 112

Learning How To Survive

On Wednesday, February 24 several staff members of Tri-Lakes Cares and Hangers to Hutches took part in a “poverty simulation” presented by Pikes Peak United Way. It was an eye-opening experience.

Developed by the Missouri Association for Community Action, the simulation invites community members (from non-profits, businesses, private citizens) as “participants to role-play the lives of low-income families from single parents trying to care for their children to senior citizens trying to maintain their self-sufficiency on Social Security.”

Everyone was split up into family groups or as individuals and supplied with some necessary documents such as identification cards, transportation passes and items which could be pawned. Family groups and individuals are of various age groups with real-life problems – in a homeless shelter, living in their own home but facing eviction due to failure to pay the mortgage, children with health issues, etc. – were asked to resolve those issues and survive during a four-week period.

Facilitators acted as service provider agencies, the school system, banks, lending institutions, places of employment, rent/mortgage companies and utilities. Others played the role of the police, drug dealers and other people in the community. Within a set period of time, participants navigated the system to try and survive.

And, the name of the game was survival. Nearly everyone who participated were of middle-class backgrounds and to suddenly be thrust into survival mode and to try to get all the necessary resources for the survival of the family helped to illustrate what so many people in poverty go through.

Panicked. Scared. Unsure. Confused. These were all terms that came out during the de-briefing to help understand the simulation. People reported feeling rushed and struggling to understand a system which doesn’t always respond to the immediacy of the need. Those who had “children” had to deal with truancy, theft and drug dealing. One “mother” said she was appalled that her child sold drugs, but was more than willing to take the earnings to help pay the bills. A “homeless couple” staying at the shelter came to the conclusion that it was easier to stay there rather than find their own place because they didn’t have to pay rent or for food and it made survival easier. A “senior citizen” who lived alone, reported feeling lonely. One “family” was evicted from their home for non-payment of the mortgage.

It is easy for many of us to judge those living in poverty. “Why don’t they get a better paying job.” “Why are they still staying at the shelter.” “Why are they homeless?” “What bad parents! The kids were arrested again.

The poverty simulation exercise made us realize how difficult it can be for those living in poverty. It is not an easy world in which to survive.


Fox 21 News did a news story on the event: http://fox21news.com/2016/02/24/pikes-peak-united-way-holds-poverty-simulation/

From the Food Pantry: Thank you to our faith and community supporters!

Tri-Lakes Cares is ever so grateful to the many faith and community groups that regularly hold food drives for our pantry. In 2015, together they helped to provide for 568 families and raised over 72,000 pounds of food! What a wonderful way to help care for our neighbors in need! We certainly couldn’t do it without you!

Thank you to these churches and community groups collected food for TLC in 2015!

Apostolic Christian Youth Group
The Ascent Church
Benet Hill Monastery
Cathedral Rock Church
Church at Woodmoor
Church of Latter Day Saints (CR 105)
Monument Community Garden
Family of Christ Lutheran Church
First United Methodist Church
First Baptist Church of Black Forest
Holy Trinity Anglican Church
Kiwanis Club – Monument Hill
Light House Christian Fellowship
Little Log Church
Living Word Chapel
Monument Hill Baptist Church
Monument Community Presbyterian Church
Mountain Community Mennonite
New Life Church
Northland Community Church
St. Peter Catholic Church
St. Matthias Episcopal Church
Tri-Lakes Church of Christ
Tri-Lakes United Methodist Church
Tri-Lakes Reformed Church
Tri-Lakes Women’s Club
Trinity Lutheran ChurchThankYou2


“On a Plate – A Short Story about Privilege”

We ran across this cartoon by Toby Morris on The Wireless website. This cartoon is a great illustration of the generational poverty that many of TLC’s clients face and how difficult it can be to get out of that cycle.

Which side of the cartoon do you fall on? Can you identify with the other side? Let us know.

One way that TLC helps individuals to move out of generational poverty is through the “Getting Ahead” program. During the 12-week course, participants are called “investigators.” They complete a self-evaluation to help them understand their current situation and mindset. They review what resources they have or lack, share stories and successes in the class, learn how to maximize their resources and build relationships which will prove beneficial beyond the class.

This year TLC will offer the course twice. The first one will begin March 2nd. For information about Getting Ahead contact Kim Whisenhunt at 481-4864, ext 105 or operationsmanager@tri-lakescares.org.

Toby is an illustrator and comic artist based Auckland, New Zealand. He is the creator of the Pencilsword and is also half of the Toby and Toby duo of the series “That is the question” at radionz.co.nz.


A giving heart begins at a young age

From Cara, Hangers Store Manager

Timothy Koch was beaming as he brought his young son, Logan, into Hangers to Hutches a few days before Christmas. Little Logan had a brand new Adventure Wheels in his arms that he wanted to donate. Logan was beaming as well, the father – son matching smiles were just alike. Dad began to tell us that Logan wanted to make sure that another child would have at least one gift for Christmas. So our “Elf” dad was more than pleased to help his pint-sized “Santa’s” wish come true. Logan was eager to tells us what his desire was and quickly posed for this sweet photo of his donation. There is nothing more priceless than the giving spirit of a child who understands, at such a young age, that the holidays are a time to think of and bless others…GREAT JOB LOGAN!



Pictured from left to right: Elizabeth Robinove (Asst. Mgr), Liz Rael (Sales Associate), Logan Koch.

Date of Photo: 12/22/15

The Overhead Myth: Non-profit overhead is critical for growth

There has been a war declared in the nonprofit sector.

I’m not sure if you heard of it, but it’s a war against the “overhead myth”, or the idea that financial ratios are the sole indicator of nonprofit performance. Recently TLC Volunteer Jennifer Cunningham set out to do her part in debunking that myth by writing the article below. Thank you Jennifer and all the warriors out there who are doing their part to encourage donors to focus on outcomes rather than overhead!

We try to be careful with our money. When it comes to charitable giving, we tend to be even more protective, wanting to ensure it is put to its best possible use. Most often, we look to an organization’s overhead numbers to determine whether they are worthy of our dollars.

But strictly considering overhead as a gauge may be short-sighted. Let’s compare. Organization A has an overhead of 23 percent. They are providing many services to many individuals, growing their program offerings through fundraising, reaching established goals and possibly saving some in reserve for leaner months. Organization B, on the other hand, has only 8 percent overhead. They too are meeting basic client needs, but there is high turnover due to low salaries, no new programs and they live quarter to quarter in their budget, hoping a significant need does not arise.

Which would you rather support?

The difference here is the amount of money Organization A has invested into promoting their programs, compensating their employees and investing in infrastructure. They are strong. They may be spending more, but they’re also generating more in dollars and outcome. Organization B is barely hanging on and doesn’t have the capital to grow.

Which agency is more successful at meeting their projected objectives?

There is a very pervasive and entrenched attitude when it comes to non-profit performance and expenditures.

As Dan Pallotta, a staunch advocate for non-profit success, states, “Charities should have the same tools and permissions as the for-profit sector, or they will have no real chance of solving the world’s problems.”

His first example relates to compensation. In order to attract the best and brightest in any industry, there needs to be monetary enticement. Granted, the individual with a heart for non-profit work may expect a lower salary than a corporate position. However, everyone has a need to support a family and plan for the future. There shouldn’t have to be a choice between doing good for your household or doing good for the world. The added benefit to competitive wages is lower turnover. When an organization lacks continuity or commitment, the overall mission and vision suffers.

Perhaps the biggest area where expenditures are vilified is in fundraising. Large for-profit corporations spend millions, possibly billons, on advertising and marketing with stellar results. Why is this same allowance not given to the non-profit sector? Increased exposure equals increased support, resulting in increased assistance to the clients. People can only give to charities they are aware of.

“The only way organizations are going to grow is to increase public awareness of the work they do,” insists Pallotta.

Fundraising sometimes requires risk, another area non-profits are discouraged from pursuing. The fear from board of directors is, “what if it doesn’t work?” Money that could have been spent on programs is now gone, leaving the organization vulnerable to criticism. But without trying something new, non-profits are left to the same, mundane, low-income generating activities.

There is also little allowance for structured growth. Start-up, for-profit businesses aren’t expected to generate revenue immediately. However, non-profits are held to an almost unreasonable standard of producing results as soon as their doors open. This emphasis on the “do” leaves no time to develop, formulate tangible goals and objectives or create strategic plans.

So what is a donor to do? Very few of us have the time or knowledge to dig into the financial records and reports of a non-profit. Even if you simply compared overhead numbers, this wouldn’t provide you with an accurate picture. Every organization groups expenses differently, resulting in an apples to oranges comparison, which can be misleading.

Thankfully, the answer is simple. Organizations like GuideStar.org, CharityNavigator.org and GreatNonprofits.org have done the work for you. These organizations are replete with information on every non-profit and neatly organize the information you need to make an informed decision.

Smaller non-profits, like those found in the Tri-Lakes region, will not be listed on CharityNavigator due to their lower revenue. However, GuideStar does list them. In the search bar, type “Tri-Lakes” and the site will prompt you for the state. After clicking Colorado, our local charities will be neatly listed. Here you can compare reviews, financial and impact summaries, as well as donate. Look for organizations that have been given the Gold Star seal.

Giving is good. It feeds our soul and deepens the connection to our communities. When deciding to give, don’t simply ask for overhead numbers. Ask for outcomes and feel good knowing you are making a difference.

Tiny Town and Adventure Quest



I had the distinct honor and privilege of meeting Rhett and Alyssa recently. Ages 4 and 3 (though Alyssa assured me she was almost 4), Rhett and Alyssa came to TLC to personally deliver the fruits of their month-long labor of love for TLC on behalf of the Ascent Church’s Tiny Town.

Tiny Town (kids ages 2 through pre-k) and Adventure Quest (kindergarten through 4th grade) have committed to walking alongside Tri-Lakes Cares during the holiday season, hoping to raise money for the TLC food pantry and for those people who are less fortunate. They collected a special offering from Sunday, October 25 through Sunday, November 22, and asked the children’s parents to allow them to do some work around the house to earn change.

Rhett and Alyssa shared with us how they earned money to give to TLC. Rhett cleaned his room, helped with the dishwasher and laundry, and cleaned his play room. Alyssa cleaned her room and helped take care of her baby sister, who she tells me had been a little under the weather. Other kids raked leaves, washed windows, helped make dinner and set the table, and much more, all so they could earn money to give to people in need. In total, the Tiny Town-ers raised $44.92 for the TLC Pantry!

In addition to raising money through a special offering, Tiny Town and Adventure Quest collected 278 pounds of food for our holiday bags and decorated the bags themselves – 400 in total! We are so grateful to have these children involved in making a happy holiday celebration for families who are less fortunate.

Thank you Ascent Church for instilling in these kids the value of serving others and thank you Tiny Town and Adventure Quest for your effort to support Tri-Lakes Cares!

What are YOU thankful for?

On Saturday, November 21, Tri-Lakes Cares’ Staff and Volunteers distributed holiday groceries to 149 local families in need. Each bag included the Thanksgiving basics – stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie mix, etc. – and each family was able to choose between a turkey, ham or chicken to prepare for their holiday celebration. Although it was very cold that day, we all enjoyed ourselves. After all, isn’t Thanksgiving really about giving?!

As often happens when participating in events like this, we at TLC began reflecting on what it is we are thankful for. Our answers were varied: football (the Broncos in particular), family, a reliable vehicle, healthy foods to eat at home, the opportunity to travel, our children, Serrano’s coffee, and more. And after we reflected on what it is we are thankful for, we took a minute to think about how many of the things we are thankful for, our clients go without. Our clients often cannot afford cable to watch the Broncos’ game or a reliable vehicle or healthy foods. Certainly travel is out of the question as well as the occasional splurge for a cup of coffee.

We are so grateful for what we have, but we are also grateful for the opportunity to be a resource for our neighbors in need. Maybe we can’t pay for every cup of Serrano’s coffee or buy each of our clients a new car, but we can alleviate the financial burden experienced during an unforeseen medical emergency, the loss of a job, or even the reality of living in chronic poverty.

So what about you? What are you thankful for this year?