Three Aspen locals create fund to bolster existing COVID-19 relief |

Three Aspen locals create fund to bolster existing COVID-19 relief

Mack Bailey walks into the middle school cafeteria during the Aspen Family Connection’s food drive on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Over the past few weeks, Aspen, Pitkin County and Snowmass government officials have appropriated more than $7 million to help locals through the financial losses and future economic uncertainty of the COVID-19 crisis.

And also during that time, a grassroots effort quietly in the works has raised $3.5 million in relief funds for those from Aspen to Parachute. The 2020 Rescue Fund, an effort headed by three Aspen locals, aims to get money from donors to residents impacted the most by the pandemic in the most effective and efficient way possible.

“This is a health and economic crisis, making it much more complicated to sort through,” Bob Hurst, one of the Aspenites heading the 2020 Rescue Fund, said Sunday afternoon. “These are really tough times for a lot of people and we wanted to get together to help the community. That’s where our focus is.”

Hurst, Melony Lewis and Jerry Greenwald so far have secured the $3.5 million from 22 Aspen locals, including themselves, for the 2020 Rescue Fund, which is established as a charitable fund with the Aspen Community Foundation.

In the coming weeks with the help of ACF, the rescue fund’s “advisory committee” trio will select social service nonprofits that are capable of addressing priority needs during the crisis — such as economic assistance, food access, health care and other essential humanitarian support — to give funds to for timely individual distribution.

“Every dollar is going to someone who needs it,” Greenwald said.

The advisory group and ACF officials said there is no formal grant award or application process for the 2020 Rescue Fund but a drive to ensure community members affected by the crisis can get the assistance they need as soon as possible with no one falling through the cracks.

That being said, the advisory trio plans to distribute the rescue money in waves, checking in with social services nonprofits and area government officials often to make sure the funding does not overlap with other sources and will last through the entirety of the crisis and recovery.

“We’re trying to understand where the needs are, what organizations do what, and trying to be as helpful and successful with that help as possible,” Lewis said. “We’d like to be able to support the community as long as we can until it can get back on its feet.”

Last week, Aspen City Council agreed on a $6 million stimulus package, and Pitkin County, along with Aspen and Snowmass Village, has allocated roughly $1.3 million in relief funds since the start of the coronavirus outbreak. The county fund has received more than 1,200 applicants, officials said last week.

The first round of 2020 Rescue Fund distributions, amounting to $270,000, will be given to five area nonprofits as early as Monday, and subsequent assistance will be awarded on a rolling basis as the advisory group vets the needs of each nonprofit and gets a better handle on the regional assistance gaps from Aspen to Parachute.

While Hurst, Lewis and Greenwald emphasized their main driver for creating the fund as wanting to give back to their community because they have the financial means to do so, they also mentioned a hope for Aspen-area locals to understand that we’re all in this together and to help their neighbors in whatever way works best for them.

“No one would be here if it weren’t for everybody,” Lewis said, referring to how interconnected the Roaring Fork Valley is.

“If we can rally and be there for each other, that’s the spirit of this valley. … We hope this carries some weight and inspires people to support in whatever way that looks like for them so we can get through this extremely difficult time together.”

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