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Andersen: Aspen philanthropy defies social distancing

Paul Andersen
Fair Game

Class divisions in Aspen have long defined a different form of social distancing here. Thanks to a recent philanthropic gesture, that distancing could shrink.

Last week, The Aspen Times reported that three high-net-worth Aspenites have organized a charity drive directed toward the valley’s struggling hourly workers. Bob Hurst, Melony Lewis and Jerry Greenwald have so far raised $3.5 million from 22 Aspen locals — and from themselves — to create a grassroots relief fund.

“This is a health and economic crisis,” said Hurst of the 2020 Rescue Fund. “These are really tough times for a lot of people and we wanted to get together to help the community.”

If coronavirus has put you out of work and in financial straits, philanthropy is a godsend that can help pay the bills and put food on the table. If you are wealthy, socially conscious and rich in spirit, philanthropy is a godsend that can enrich the soul and build community.

Those hit hard by COVID-19 and those able to underwrite their needs have come together to expand the scope of Aspen’s community. This new philanthropic movement is bringing local people together as perhaps never before.

John Sarpa, a longtime Aspen developer, was brought in to help connect donors. “It has been very heartwarming,” Sarpa said, “to see many of the stereotypical suspicions from the private sector about government and vice versa being abandoned. Instead, there is a public/private partnership evolving to take actions in which everyone wants to use their resources as effectively as possible. What a great community we live in.”

Funds from local governments and the private sector now total over $10 million to help working people impacted by the statewide lockdown. This umbrella of giving redefines and enlarges community — from Aspen to Parachute — by providing shelter to those facing financial losses and future economic uncertainty.

The 2020 Rescue Fund will be channeled by social service nonprofits to identify priorities for economic assistance, food access, health care and other essential humanitarian support. Relief offerings have fielded more than 1,200 applicants, and there are many more who have not yet applied.

Such philanthropy transcends class divisions by coalescing the needs of unemployed service workers with high-end donors. It reminds us of our interdependency and of the social leveling that existed in earlier years, a time when egalitarian virtues defined Aspen’s culture by inviting a free and open social mixing that spawned what planners call “messy vitality.”

Such giving has had historic precedence in Aspen since the mining era where civic societies and fraternal orders, like the Elks and Eagles, have provided charity. Rotary, Kiwanis, the Aspen Community Fund and others now add to that giving base.

Lady Bountiful, a colorful character of the Crystal Valley from a century ago, was noted for her generosity among coal miners who labored in the Redstone mines for Colorado Fuel & Iron.

Alma Regina Shelgrem, rumored to be a Swedish countess, married CF&I founder John Osgood in 1899. Alma was concerned about the welfare of the people in Redstone, so at Christmas she had the local children write a letter to Santa Claus to ask for one gift. When she and Osgood traveled to Chicago, Alma purchased an item for each child. She was named Lady Bountiful by the townspeople.

Some exhibit more bountiful lives than others, which can be a cause for division. A shared crisis is necessary for the mutuality of community under what Martin Luther King described as the “single garment of destiny.”

“If we can rally and be there for each other, that’s the spirit of this valley,” Melony Lewis said.

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

The 2020 Rescue Fund will ensure that “community members affected by the crisis can get the assistance they need as soon as possible with no one falling through the cracks.”

Those cracks have widened to a global scale. The 2020 Relief Fund is a fitting name because 20/20 vision is the clarity necessary to see both the micro and the macro of COVID-19. As pernicious as this virus seems, it is redefining community in Aspen and throughout the world.

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at andersen@rof.net.


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