Giving Thought: Local philanthropists step up with Rescue Fund

Tamara Tormohlen
Giving Thought
Tamara Tormohlen
Steve Mundinger

The Roaring Fork Valley is often thought of as having boundless generosity, especially in a crisis.

The clearest example of this is the hundreds of nonprofit organizations that thrive in this valley and serve our relatively small population in so many ways. But an even more powerful demonstration is taking place right now in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that has brought the entire globe to a near standstill.

Earlier this month, a group of Aspen philanthropists approached the Aspen Community Foundation and asked for our assistance in creating the 2020 Rescue Fund to support all the people and organizations struggling through the health and financial crisis of the coronavirus. As of this writing, the leaders of the Rescue Fund have raised over $3.7 million and distributed $690,000 in assistance to various organizations.

“The community has really rallied around this concept,” said Bob Hurst, one of the three main organizers of the fund. “We’re trying to target those individuals who would otherwise fall through the cracks.”

Hurst and his fellow organizers, Melony Lewis and Jerry Greenwald, have identified five sectors where they’ve focused their giving: food distribution, health care, economic assistance, education and legal aid. Organizations that have received grants thus far include Mountain Family Health Centers, the Aspen Hope Center, the Aspen Homeless Shelter, Valley Settlement, Food Bank of the Rockies, The Salvation Army, Aspen Family Connections and Stepping Stones.

There are more organizations, but this partial list demonstrates that Hurst, Lewis and Greenwald are doing their homework and directing money to the places where the valley´s most vulnerable individuals and families can get the help they need.

Marian McDonough of Catholic Charities in Glenwood Springs says she typically fields five to 10 calls per day from locals struggling to make a rent or utility payment, or perhaps needing transportation help. Lately, she has received from 30 and 50 calls per day.

“There’s been a huge increase in volume,” she said. ¨Half of these people have never contacted us before for any kind of assistance. They’re hesitant and unsure. They’re calling and just asking, ‘What do I do?’”

Even halfway through April, many of these desperate callers were asking for help with their May rent, knowing that they can’t expect any paychecks in April. And their anxieties are worsened by the fact that nobody knows how long the social and economic paralysis will continue. McDonough was grateful for the Rescue Fund´s help, saying “the community has just been amazing.”

Anna Cole, interim director of the Family Resource Center of the Roaring Fork School District, said she too has been besieged with calls from parents unable to meet basic needs — food, rent, utilities — for themselves and their school-aged children. The center works with families who have students in the Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood public schools, helping the families to manage their affairs and connecting them with community organizations that provide medical, financial and other kinds of help.

“In early March, we were actively case-managing about 100 to 200 families within the district,” Cole said. “Now it’s 500 to 600 families, and we’re getting more referrals every day. These are working families who are really struggling.”

The Family Resource Centers typically do more coaching and counseling than direct economic assistance, but more and more families now find themselves in a truly intractable financial bind.

“We’re really asking ourselves, ‘How do we help people to help themselves in the middle of this?’” Cole said. ¨No one in this valley is going to starve, but we do have to make sure that folks are connected to the organizations that can help.”

Aspen Community Foundation is proud to facilitate this effort to strengthen humanitarian assistance throughout our three-county region. This is a serious and unprecedented crisis, and it requires an unprecedented level of commitment, organization and follow-through. We are hugely grateful to Hurst, Lewis, Greenwald, their fellow donors, and all the people providing vital social and human services in our region.

The 2020 Rescue Fund is a complement to ACF’s COVID-19 Regional Response Fund, the donors to which we are equally grateful. The COVID-19 fund was able to quickly allocate funding to nonprofit organizations while the Rescue Fund was being formed. It will continue to fill gaps in funding as this crisis continues.

Stay healthy and safe, and practice social distancing.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of Aspen Community Foundation.