A sheared brain stem and badly bruised frontal lobe from a 2008 car accident left Veronica Corbelli, 15, with a lengthy hospital stay and uncertain future. Her mother, Dawn, sustained traumatic brain injury and several broken bones.

Undaunted, Veronica spent nearly four months relearning how to eat, talk, walk and interact with others.

“We went through an extensive amount of therapy – speech, physical and occupational therapy – and had to ask the help of others along the way,” Dawn said. “We felt a need to give back.”

Westside CARES offered the Corbellis that volunteer opportunity, she said.

“At first, Veronica wasn’t in close contact with neighbors, so she learned to gather resources while another volunteer handed them to the neighbor,” Dawn said. After continued interactions, Veronica could shake hands and hug the neighbors. Thanks to their work at Westside CARES, she’s regaining self-confidence, Dawn said.

“We feel blessed to have the opportunity to volunteer with such great people,” she said.

Westside CARES operates six food pantries and provides financial and medical help to referrals through special seasonal programs.

“We’re one of about 20 agencies that are beneficiaries of the (Empty Stocking Fund),” said Westside CARES CEO Kristy Milligan. “We’re engaged in promoting philanthropy with the other agencies. Unlike other agencies, we call the people we assist neighbors.”

The nonprofit is an ecumenical and interfaith collaboration by more than 20 religious fellowships on Colorado Springs’ West Side that serve people in crisis. Westside CARES has been an Empty Stocking Fund partner since 2007.

The fund provided $22,953 last year to the group, which helped about 24,000residents. Clothing vouchers were given to 6,367 people, and 535 households got help with utility bills. The organization also provided food, identification procurement and limited rental and mail service help.

“The total program cost is $63,000, and we typically raise about $20,000 through ESF, which is a huge chunk of the program,” Milligan said.

“Getting to know our neighbors is the most rewarding part of this job,” said Resource Room Coordinator Joyce Kunkle. “We can’t make everything perfect, but can help by giving these people a pair of socks or a cup of hot coffee.”

Volunteer Dawn Kroeze agreed. “The hardest part of this job is having to tell someone we don’t have what they need,” said Koreze, who has been with Westside CARES for three years.

Said Hospitality Officer Nancy Rodriguez: “I love to see how people react when we treat them like human beings and not cattle.”

“It’s difficult to grasp the complexity of what these people endure until you see it firsthand,” said Milligan.

“When we help the most vulnerable, we save taxpayers money. Every touchpoint we have maximizes the possibility of people contributing, and who understand their dignity and worth.”

Donating to ESF can enhance that mission, she said. The organization always needs blankets, non-perishable food, men’s coats, small-sized pants (30-34), shoes and work boots, toiletries and zip lock bags.

“I can’t begin to guess how many clothing items went out last year,” she said. “Some need a coat, jacket, long-sleeve shirt or pair of shoes, while others need socks, T-shirts and underwear. Now is the time to donate to the ESF and help make a difference,” Milligan said.

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