Giving Thought: Public-private partnerships strengthen pandemic response

Tamara Tormohlen
Giving Thought
Tamara Tormohlen
Steve Mundinger

Cities and towns in the Roaring Fork Valley are the latest entities to step forward with help for local individuals and families suffering from the impact of the coronavirus.

Last month, we reported the creation of the 2020 Rescue Fund by a group of Aspen philanthropists. Now I’m happy to announce that the municipal governments of Aspen, Basalt and Carbondale each have committed thousands of dollars to nonprofit providers of financial assistance, food, mental health counseling and other services to people whose lives and livelihoods have been derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Throughout the Aspen-to-Parachute region, people have been pushed out of work and into financial crisis. Working families that have never sought economic help now find themselves searching for money to pay their rent or put food on the table. For the past two months, organizations such as Aspen Family Connections, Food Bank of the Rockies, LIFT-UP and Valley Meals and more have distributed food to hundreds of individuals and families. The crisis also is taking an emotional toll, fraying the nerves of adults and children who are separated from their friends and coworkers and deeply worried about the future.

The city of Aspen donated $200,000 in mid-April to the Aspen Community Foundation’s COVID-19 Regional Response Fund, in order to help people from Aspen to Parachute reckon with the myriad impacts of the pandemic. This, coupled with a matching grant from a private donor, was allocated to Pitkin County’s COVID economic assistance fund. Last week, the city followed up with an additional $250,000 for economic assistance, mental health services and legal aid for workers outside the city and county.

“Over 60 percent of our workforce lives in Basalt or somewhere farther downvalley in the Roaring Fork Valley or the Colorado River Valley,” Aspen City Manager Sara Ott said. “We want to support those individuals and families during this difficult time.”

The town of Basalt also took action in late April, allocating $10,000 to Food Bank of the Rockies, which distributes food to hundreds of families every week at Basalt Middle School. Another $10,000 will go to ACF’s Basalt Area Gives Fund for Basalt-specific needs related to the COVID-19 crisis.

Basalt also drew on its tobacco tax revenue for $50,000 to support counseling and suicide prevention through the Aspen Hope Center. Towns and cities don’t usually provide economic or emergency assistance; funding for human and social services trickles down from the federal and state governments to county departments, so this is new territory for the town.

“This is not something that’s typically in our wheelhouse, but these are unprecedented circumstances,” Basalt Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said. “We just have to stay in place and make sure we’re joining forces to take care of our own.”

The town of Carbondale too recently approved $10,000 for LIFT-UP to support weekly food distributions in the area, and also directed $10,000 to ACF’s COVID-19 Regional Response Fund. The foundation will grant the money to nonprofits providing support to Carbondale residents in need of basic monetary and medical help.

Carbondale Town Manager Jay Harrington said the foundation will act in the town’s stead to allocate the money where it will do the most good. “ACF has the staff and the systems in place, it has the relationships with nonprofits that can gauge the needs out there,” he said, echoing the comments of other officials in the region. “Our goal is to support those in the community who need it.”

Harrington added that Carbondale Town Council will keep an eye on events going forward and take a “measured approach,” reacting to the crisis as it evolves and possibly making more grants. Officials in Aspen and Basalt echoed that sentiment.

“There has been a lot of generosity coming out of each community,” Mahoney said. “This isn’t a flash in the pan. This situation is going to go on for months, if not years. We want to make sure we can make another donation if need be.”

All of this activity represents an exciting new dimension in the regional response to the COVID-19 crisis. In addition to our ongoing cooperation with county human service departments, the nonprofit community is now joining hands with municipal governments to support struggling locals in the most effective ways they can find. This is all testament to how our community has come together to stage a truly remarkable response to an unprecedented threat.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of Aspen Community Foundation.