Montserrat Ibarra, 13, has more responsibilities than many other young people her age.
The main one is taking care of her younger brother, who is 8.

Every afternoon, Montserrath has to make sure he does his homework, eats and goes to sleep (in the bed he shares with his family in the only bedroom in their apartment) at a reasonable time so he can go to school the next day. Sometimes she's also in charge of cooking. Many other times she has to help with the cleaning. Her least favorite thing is cleaning the bathroom.

"My mom's usually tired because she has two jobs. I have to help out," said Montserrath, who's in the eighth grade at a middle school in Jefferson County.

Monstserrath and her little brother, Jesus, are two of the 210,500 children in Colorado who live in poverty. Like them, 34 percent of those kids are Latino. The Census Bureau defines poverty as a household income of $22,113 for a family of four.

A recent study by the Pew Hispanic Center shows that for the first time there are more poor Latino children - 6.1 million nationwide - than those of any other ethnic group.

The most obvious reason is the economic crisis the country is experiencing today. Something Silvia Montoya - Montserrath and Jesus' mother - understands well.

"It's difficult, but either way I have tried to move forward," she said.

Until recently, Montoya had two jobs, one in the morning at Einstein Bagels and the other at night at Wendy's.

Her schedule was something like this: from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. at her first job, come home, cook dinner, pick up a little, care for her children when they arrived from school, get ready, from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. at her second job, go home, sleep four hours and get up to do it all over again.

"I have to be responsible and fend for my children," said Montoya, 33, who arrived from Zacatecas, Mexico, 12 years ago.

A few weeks ago, after having her hours cut back drastically at her first job, Montoya decided to quit.
"It didn't make sense to keep going because they needed very few people in the morning hours," she said.

"Sometimes I went and they sent me home."

But the single mother cannot afford to have one job for long. The little money that comes into her home is long gone before it's received. Montoya lives day by day, and what she earns almost makes ends meet.

"I need to get back to work as soon as possible because otherwise I'll get too far behind," said Montoya. "Sometimes I can't sleep. I get depressed, but I have to calm down. I have to go keep moving forward no matter what."

Argelia Marquez sits with her grandchild Andrea at the Church of the Nazarene Church in Commerce City during a service on Nov. 10.
Argelia Marquez sits with her grandchild Andrea at the Church of the Nazarene Church in Commerce City during a service on Nov. 10. (Manuel Martinez)

The Montoyas' economic situation was not always so dire. Two years ago she worked only part-time because the breadwinner then was her husband. Although they didn't live in luxury, Montoya said, they also never lacked anything, and they lived in a more comfortable place and even went out to eat on weekends.

But abuse and addiction problems ended her marriage. Montoya was separated from her husband for two years. A year ago, he returned to Mexico, completely cutting off the little financial aid he provided them.

For many families, an act like that can take them from financially stable to poverty- stricken overnight.
Angela Cabrera, who runs her church's food bank in Commerce City, has seen it with her own eyes many times.

"We see faces we haven't seen before. Now we see middle-class housewives who had never been forced to go to a food bank and show up so embarrassed to be here, you can see it in their demeanor. And we didn't see that before," said Cabrera, whose food bank is open every Wednesday night and Sunday morning.

"These are people who basically do not have a budget to cover all their expenses," added her husband, Victor Cabrera, pastor of the Church of the Nazarene. "It's eat or pay your bills."

Which is precisely the case of Argelia Marquez, a 62-year-old grandmother who helps her daughter, a single mother of four, even though she doesn't have enough to take care of herself.

"She's my daughter," Marquez said, admitting that didn't make it easy. "I have to help."

Every Wednesday night for the past few weeks, Marquez has gone to the food bank of the Church of the Nazarene and filled a box from the choices on the shelves of a small room. Her nearly 3-year-old granddaughter accompanies her because she has nowhere else to go.

Marquez takes about 20 minutes carefully selecting flour tortillas, bananas, cereal, meat and even a cleaning product, as well as some snacks for her grandchildren.

"(The food bank has) been a great blessing in my life. It has helped me a lot because sometimes when my grandchildren came to visit I didn't have anything to feed them," said Marquez, who has also lived day by day since being let go from her job at a packing house last year after a decade there.

"For me it has been very difficult because I'm an older person who hasn't studied much," she said.

Currently, Marquez receives $380 per month in unemployment, which isn't even enough to cover the $550 rent on her modest one-bedroom apartment. She supplements her income caring for two children in her home.

The food bank supplies most of the food for her and her grandchildren and, oftentimes, even for the children in her care.

Without that help, she said, she could not survive. For everything else, including clothing and shoes for her grandchildren, Marquez seeks out bargains at garage sales.

Marquez has not lost hope that their economic situation will improve, but when asked what would happen with Christmas right around the corner, she couldn't help but get emotional.
"I don't know what to do," she said, her voice breaking. "I don't have money to buy them anything."

Montoya said she feels the same way. The only thing her daughter, Montserrath, wants for Christmas is a computer so she could do her homework at home instead of having to stay after school or see if someone could take her to the local library.

But buying a computer would be a luxury for the family.

"Sometimes I fall into depression. I get depressed a lot. I feel very sad," Montoya said. "But that's the way it is, sometimes hard times hit."