The Face of Hunger

Colorado is the 16th-wealthiest state in the nation. So why are so many of our neighbors still having trouble putting food on the table?

September 2007

Kelly Emrick
Transitional housing resident, Denver Rescue Mission's Champa House

Kelly Emrick's urinalysis didn't lie. "You're hot," said the lab staff at Champa House, the transitional housing facility where Emrick lived with her two small sons. It was just a hairline trace of cocaine, but enough to send Emrick and her family packing to a friend's one bedroom apartment, where $350 in monthly food stamps bought staples for five people. Not allowed back into the program for 90 days, she found work at Applebee's in the interim—and promptly lost her food stamp eligibility. "I was scared," she says. "I had to bring food home from work half the time for the kids to eat." She'd been down this road before, and the circumstances had eventually forced her to give up her third child for adoption at birth.

Emrick's history was the stuff of after-school specials: alcoholic parents, drugs, dropping out of high school, jail time, abusive boyfriends. "I always depended on a man," she says. "Even though he beat the crap out of me, I thought, I have no support out there, that's all I have." Stuck in a cycle where getting a job meant losing her food, medical, and daycare assistance, she and her two oldest kids survived on King Soopers cards donated by a friend. Fighting her pride, she finally applied to the self-sufficiency program at Champa House in 2005.

Emrick, now 28 and clean, is getting back on track her second time around at Champa House. She's started a job as a photographer, her two sons are in school and daycare, and they don't worry about where the next meal comes from. Her youngest child has been adopted by a caring family. Emrick faces a new challenge after she completes the training; she's been on the waiting list for Section 8 low-income housing for two years. "What if I can't pay this, what if this goes wrong, what's gonna happen to me?" she asks. "I'm not going to have [Champa House] to just fall back on, and all this support." But for the moment, sunlight streams through the window of her small apartment as she watches her three-year-old Dylan, babbling happily with his toys while Gavin, 9, plays outside. "You just get that feeling—that you're OK now," she says. "No, it's not perfect, but I have that ease, that OK feeling right now. And I haven't had that in awhile."