Community profile: John Harcourt helps lead New Castle Scouts’ community effort in food donations
There once was a man named Charles Harcourt.
This man was well respected around Denver — a community pillar of sorts, according to surviving family members. Right around 1960, in fact, Harcourt’s standing in the community compelled an up-and-coming professional football franchise to request his help.
It was then that Harcourt, a certified public accountant in Denver who had ties with the legendary Gerald Phipps, helped organize a mail-in contest that would eventually lead to the official naming of the Denver Broncos.
“He was a very reputable individual,” said Charles’ son, John Harcourt of New Castle. “He was well respected in the community and was actually asked to run for governor for the Republicans in the ‘60s.”
“He was always busy,” John added about his father. “He served on a lot of boards. He was in the Kiwanis organization, he was a Mason, he was on the Colorado Visitors’ Bureau.
Although he doesn’t necessarily hold the same acclaim, the 74-year-old John Harcourt has followed his father’s notable footsteps in community engagement.
Closer to Thanksgiving, you might see him posted in front of a New Castle grocery store, a couple Cub Scouts at his side. Harcourt, the Pack 221 master, is there encouraging shoppers to purchase bundles of food to donate.
The donation is then allocated to LIFT-UP, which operates several food pantries dotted between Aspen and Parachute.
“It’s amazing. During food drive week, there’s not a can on the shelves in New Castle, or Ramen or rice or beans,” said Dustin Harcourt, John’s son. “The whole town really shows up and buys a bunch of food to get to LIFT-UP and those that are in need of food for the winter months.”
Within the New Castle community itself, the food pantry feeds between roughly 30-40 families in need. And, John’s ability to help collect impressive volumes of donations and his overall empathy has likely made life a tad easier for those families.
“He’s got a big heart for helping others who need help,” Dustin said.
Ask the many volunteers around the New Castle community — there are a lot, Dustin noted — and they’ll probably say the same thing. In fact, in 2016, the town named Dustin’s father Volunteer of the Year.
“No doubt about it, he’s one of the hardest workers out there,” Dustin said of his father. “Whatever he did, he did right. He was always willing to help others and put his time in.”
Unofficial record breaker
When the local food drive effort all began about 10 years ago, John was a bit surprised at the outcome.
After his scouts went door to door, handing out fliers and empty bags at people’s doorsteps, the donations were quite substantial — 2,000 pounds worth of food, to be specific.
“And I thought, ‘Holy crap, that’s a lot of food for a little tiny community of 4,000 people,’” John reminisced.
It was an auspicious beginning to something great. Each following year, his Cub Scouts did the same thing. They canvassed the neighborhoods, leaving empty bags for people to fill with nonperishable food items to be subsequently donated to the local food pantry.
After the first year, the pounds increased to 2,500. The next year, 3,000.
It was then that John thought to himself, “I need to figure out a way to make this bigger.”
So, he plunked himself in front of the local grocery store, asking passersby to purchase food off the shelves to donate back to their community. The idea paid off big time. That year he helped accumulate 6,000 pounds of food.
“That’s a pound and a half per person,” John said. “Or, there’s about 1,900 houses at that time. So that’s like three pounds per household.”
Some years back, the effort churned its biggest pot yet.
“About four years ago, I thought, ‘Let’s go for a world record,” John said. “We gathered 26,300 pounds of food, which was almost six pounds per person — 20 pounds per household. But the Guinness Book didn’t recognize it.”
And it’s not like John likes to take too much credit for such astounding outcomes.
If you ever see John around town, ask him about the man in bib overalls, who last year walked up to John at the local grocery store and said, “Follow me.”
“He bought $2,600 worth of food,” John said. “He said, ‘I just woke up this morning and felt that that was something I had to do, so here’s your food.’”
Or, if you see John, ask him about the woman who made a substantial donation just last week.
“She’s an elderly woman. Her husband passed away and they lived on $1,100 a month retirement income — Social Security,” John said. “And she said, ‘I know what it’s like to be poor.’”
When John later visited her house, the woman, who chose to remain anonymous, made a donation of $5,000.
“She lives in a run-down shack. The carpet’s wore out, she’s wore out, she rarely goes outside,” John said. “What an amazing story.”
Maybe it comes to no surprise that, as of last year, John and his troop of Cub Scouts over the years have so far raised 83,000 pounds of food. That’s since the beginning.
Just this past weekend, John and the Cub Scouts collected donations from 2,200 households. The typical donation cycle accounts for about 6,000 pounds of food in one sitting.
“It’s rewarding to get the kids out, learning to be a part of their community and do community service,” John said.
In return, Rifle Fireside Lanes usually provides the little volunteers free pizza, soda and some free frames.
Dustin Harcourt is an accomplished tour guide.
He’s such an enthusiast, in fact, callers who reach his voicemail are greeted by his voice, playfully saying he missed the call because he’s out on the river fly fishing.
In 2019, he was even selected “Best of the Rockies” Best Guide by Elevation Outdoor Magazine.
Dustin, who was also at one point a scout master in New Castle, attributes much of his outdoorsman reputation to his father.
“That was a big step to loving the outdoors,” he said.
John, who retired from the RV and motorhome business after 40 years, would work the typical five days a week, each week throughout his career. Afterward, his real passion came on the weekends — taking his family to their cabin in Breckenridge, where they fished the nearby streams and rivers and skied the towering mountains.
Nowadays, beyond what he does for his community, John spends his time fly fishing with his wife, Jonie.
“Even though he’s retired, he’s still busy in the community,” Dustin said. “… Then, he’s out fishing four days a week, as well.”
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