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Number of Denver Latinos seeking aid over Christmas rises

Francisco Miraval, EFE - 12/27/2001

DENVER - Community leaders and representatives of charity organizations report that the number of poor Hispanic families in the Denver metropolitan area increased almost 40 percent since last year.

The figures, based on the number of families who received aid during the Christmas season, were released Wednesday.

According to Terry Benjamin, who heads the Family Aid Association in nearby Boulder, the recession - which began in mid-2001 - and the September terrorist attacks were particularly hard on those who live on fortnightly pay checks, particularly seasonal, restaurant and construction workers and gardeners.

"They are the first to be dismissed and those who need the most help," Benjamin said, adding, "we have helped people who never before had approached us for aid."

Among those were Hispanic middle class professionals who lost their jobs with area telecom companies.

Many of them are immigrants who cannot or do not want to return to their countries and who are unable to pay their mortgages or get new jobs, Benjamin said.

Others are seasonal workers who normally return to their country - usually Mexico - for the holidays but remained in the United States for fear that they would not be allowed to cross the border when they sought to return.

Benjamin's association and similar groups in Denver estimated that 40 percent more Hispanic families registered this year to receive Christmas aid. To provide it, charity organization spent 66 percent more money than in 2000.

For instance, more than 30,000 toys were distributed to Hispanic children this year by Regency Hotel in Denver, the U.S. Marines and Toys for Tots, almost double the number distributed last year.

And the Salvation Army served dinner to 250 families, instead of last year's 50.

"We have been distributing toys to poor Hispanic children for four years, but this year we had more children than ever," said Art Comier, manager of the Regency Hotel, located in the heart of a Hispanic neighborhood in west Denver.

"These are difficult times for our country and our community and we were happy to share something positive with them," he said.

Alfred Parker, social services director at the Salvation Army in Denver, noted a "steep increase" in the number of people requesting help.

"We don't keep records of the ethnic origin of those who come to us for help," Parker said, while noting that "the number of people who request help in Spanish is increasingly larger."

Parker lamented the fact that requests for help come "precisely at a time in which (local) people are giving more to New York than to Denver because of the terrorist attacks."