With Friday morning offering a brisk and biting reminder, wintery weather is always but a stone's throw away.
Fortunately for Pueblo's homeless, relief against the elements also is on the way, courtesy of the Pueblo Food Project and the the city of Pueblo.
With COVID-19 relief funds provided to the city, and through a partnership with Big R Stores, 350 COVID-19 winter safety kits that include a sherpa-lined duck denim jacket, sleeping bag, hat, gloves, mask, and other protective gear will be distributed to Puebloans identified in a recent Point in Time survey as being without a home.
On Friday, Monique Marez, coordinator of the Pueblo Food Project, led the delivery of 125 boxed kits to the Pueblo Community Soup Kitchen, with the remainder going to Pueblo Cooperative Care Center and the Pueblo Rescue Mission.
The timeliness of the kits' arrival was not lost on Helen Benavidez, director of the soup kitchen, nor those bundled up in blankets and layers of clothing surrounding a patio heater in the soup kitchen's parking lot.
"These COVID-19 winter safety kits will be tremendous for our folks," Benavidez said. "Especially for those who aren't in the shelter but are outside camping. A lot don't have any shelter, or winter clothing, so this is a wonderful thing to carry them through the cold winter months.
"It's just a godsend."
Marez said Big R Stores personnel packed the kits, according to jacket size, for ease of distribution.
"We shopped around, looked at different vendors, and Big R is the one that came through for us," Marez said. "As you know, the temperatures can drop pretty quickly in Pueblo and we put this together as quickly as we could.
"As we go into the single digits, these are important items to keep our community safe."
For most of the pandemic, Benavidez and her team have been providing meals in a to-go fashion, alternating between sandwiches and a hot dish. Along with the Pueblo Food Project parcels, the soup kitchen received a large delivery of goods from Colorado Care and Share, and Safeway, Friday morning.
"Everything is going well," Benavidez said. "The important thing is we are able to feed folks. We do coffee and donuts from 8:30 to 9:30 in the morning and serve either sack lunches or hot meals Monday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to noon.
"We're doing it out the back door, because we don't have enough help for in-room dining."
The numbers of those seeking sustenance, Benavidez said, are climbing.
"And we are seeing a lot of new faces, too," she added.
The generosity of Puebloans continues to sustain the operation. In addition to the donations received Friday morning, Benavidez said more food, including goods from Mesa farmers, was on its way to the soup kitchen.
"You know Pueblo," Benavidez said. "It's a very giving community and everything that people continue to do for us, like the Pueblo Food Project, helps us keep going."
Corry Higbee, executive director of the Pueblo Cooperative Care Center, was similarly grateful for the donation.
"There is such a dynamic need for the homeless to stay warm in the wake of cold weather," he said. "These warming kits are helping the homeless in many ways.
"Monique Marez and the Pueblo Food Project have expressed real value to those in need, and we are proud to partner with them."
Chieftain reporter Jon Pompia can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at twitter.com/jpompia.