Giving Thought: The collective impact of cmpassion in action shown during Lake Christine Fire

Tamara Tormohlen
Giving Thought

The Lake Christine Fire has shaken us with the speed and ferocity with which it threatened our neighborhoods and towns July 3.

Aspen Community Foundation (ACF), with its headquarters and several employees residing in Basalt, is heartbroken yet thankful that the destruction did not claim any lives. As an organization committed to serving the Aspen-to-Parachute region since 1980, we are called to action to help those on the front lines and those impacted by the disaster. We can and should do our part on behalf of the immediate response efforts and to address the long-term recovery needs of this local calamity.

ACF activated its Community to Community Fund to channel needed resources toward the needs of disaster victims, their families and impacted communities. Monies from this fund have been used to address immediate needs and will continue to help with ongoing recovery efforts for those impacted by this disaster.

The outpouring of support since this fund was announced has been remarkable and is a true testament to the “can do” attitude of our community. Within the first 24 hours of its activation, the Community to Community Fund received nearly $40,000 from donors from throughout the valley and around the country. To date, more than 220 individuals and organizations have contributed to the fund. ACF gratefully acknowledges the generosity of these donors as well as our donor advisers, and key community partners such as The Aspen Institute, Theatre Aspen, Aspen Skiing Co. and the Baguettes. Thank you also to the organizers of the Aspen Valley Marathon for designating ACF’s Community to Community Fund as a charitable beneficiary of the race this past weekend.

We’re relieved that people displaced by the Lake Christine Fire were able to return to their homes after days of worry and uncertainty. Unfortunately, many evacuees returned to spoiled food, or food contaminated by smoke. ACF embarked on a grocery card drive to help these families, allowing them to purchase food, staples, diapers and household needs. Thanks to all who donated funds and cards to this effort — this helping hand was met with overwhelming gratitude by families who needed the immediate help and the autonomy it represented in allowing them to meet their individual needs.

ACF is working with several nonprofit organizations. Valley Settlement, Mind Springs Health, English in Action and Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Folklorico have helped identify the needs of the most vulnerable families, many of whom live in the El Jebel Mobile Home Park. These proactive organizations were on the ground immediately, using their knowledge and networks to reach out to affected families, assessing their needs and connecting them to resources.

Eagle County commissioners and the Department of Human Services also have been attuned to the needs of families and victims on a constant basis. Eagle County’s Department of Housing has been a key source of information to ACF, as has been the American Red Cross of Western Colorado. These strong partners have served as valued advisers in ACF’s ability to separate fact from fiction in a sometimes-frenzied environment.

We often speak of ACF’s strategy of Collective Impact in addressing the issues that affect youth and families in the greater Roaring Fork Valley. This is simply the belief that complex issues cannot be solved by one individual organization but can be addressed by a collective joining of organizations working together to achieve a common goal. This disaster has shown that this strategy is essential to mobilizing solutions in a crisis.

ACF is uniquely positioned to convene and coordinate the area’s nonprofits and service organizations in a way that serves the family holistically, providing material goods, mental-health services and interventions that make affected families whole again. Humanitarian efforts require the precision and planning that parallels the firefighters’ logistics.

While the immediate response items such as food and clothing are important, there is more to be done in the coming weeks to help fire evacuees is a systemic and sustainable way. Children may be experiencing fear or anxiety, for example, and that will not end soon. The Community to Community Fund will help address identified needs and fill gaps.

As the days go by, more needs are being identified. As of Monday, the fire was 59 percent contained, and the weather is unpredictable. While we don’t yet know a timeline for this to end, we are monitoring and assessing the situation and its impacts.

Finally, a huge thank you to all the firefighters and first responders who put themselves in harm’s way immediately to protect our homes and keep us safe.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation.