Skico continues decades-long tradition donating uniforms overseas
Thousands of jackets, pants and other items headed to people in need
Decades ago, every time Aspen Skiing Co. updated its uniforms, the company would face “a really interesting conundrum,” according to Auden Schendler, the senior vice president of sustainability for the company.
“Every four years, we had, like, thousands of uniform pieces … tractor trailer loads of old uniforms,” Schendler said. All those pieces — “jackets and pants and so forth” — well, they had to go somewhere. But they couldn’t just go anywhere.
For one, there’s already a lot of used clothing stateside, Schendler said. And for another, the uniforms have logos on them.
“If you give them all away, now you have a group of people in Aspen uniforms who don’t work for Aspen,” he said. “We had to figure out how to get them overseas, because taking the logo off was not practical.”
So that’s exactly what Skico did, starting a charitable tradition that now spans nearly two-and-a-half decades.
“It’s been going on for 25 years, and often going to war zones,” Schendler said. Which, this year, means uniforms might end up going to Ukrainian refugees.
The latest batch — three shipping containers’ worth so far from Aspen — went out this spring to the Hungarian Charity Service of the Order of Malta, according to Gene Megyesy, a lawyer in Denver who helps coordinate the shipping overseas and covers the cost of the shipping.
The uniform count in this season’s donation totals nearly 17,500 pieces, according to an email Schendler forwarded from Skico’s director of purchasing Shana Miller. That includes “5,400 jackets, 5,400 insulators and soft shells, 5,900 pants and an additional 670 (miscellaneous) pieces,” Miller wrote.
Getting all of that packed up takes time — “hundreds if not thousands of man hours,” said Spencer Purvis, the logistics manager for Skico’s rental and retail division.
“We try to pack those (containers) all the way to the brim,” he said. And, still, there are thousands more items that “may eventually be donated once we’ve made sure we don’t have any use for those,” Purvis said.
Purvis and warehouse manager Russell Fiske have been at the helm of the pack-up-and-send-out effort here in Aspen; the Skico crew involved in this year’s initiative also includes Barb Howard, Hannah Berman and Jennifer George.
Megyesy handles the overseas shipping logistics, and the charity service handles distribution, according to Megyesy. The service is based in Hungary but supports a much wider area, including “Slovakia, Romania, Hungary and Ukraine, obviously,” he said.
There isn’t a guarantee that every Skico uniform will end up in Ukraine, but the service has sent donations to the country this year. It also is offering support at the Hungary-Ukraine border as well as in Hungary to help refugees, Megyesy said.
Ben Mares, the founder of the Colorado nonprofit Refugee Direct Aid, helped coordinate the effort in those early years with dispatches to Bosnia and Kosovo. Schendler and Chris Lane, who were then employees in Skico’s environmental affairs department, took a trip to Kosovo to help distribute uniforms at the time.
Megyesy got involved with the effort around 2000, he said. He was a friend of longtime Skico legal counsel Dave Bellack; when Megyesy heard about the uniform conundrum, he offered to help. Other ski resorts have caught wind and also worked with Megyesy to distribute their uniforms, too, he said.
“One of the reasons I’m also motivated — I was a refugee myself,” Megyesy said. “We escaped from communism in 1956 from Hungary, after the revolution.”
That life experience was part of the reason Megyesy got involved all those years ago, and why he has kept doing it.
“America has been good to me, and if I can afford and I can help others who are going through the difficult times that my family went through,” he said, “I think that’s motivation enough.“
Additional support this spring came in the form of a $23,778 donation to Chef José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen and the organization’s efforts to feed Ukrainian families in need, according to a news release.
The Little Nell and Local magazine co-hosted an end-of-season party as a fundraiser on April 17 at Ajax Tavern. Proceeds from the $40 door admission helped raise $11,889, and Skico will match that dollar for dollar. Other sponsors included La Adelita Tequila, Duke Bourbon, One Cru Pinot Noir and Cómplice Mezcal.
“Seeing what’s going on in Ukraine gave us no choice but to pool our resources and create a community event to give back,” Little Nell Culinary Director Matt Zubrod said in a statement. “We’re proud to help make a difference in supporting World Central Kitchen and their important humanitarian work.”