Community rallied to help Garfield County federal employee during shutdown
In early January, a few days into the partial government shutdown, Fran Tieyah Collins was in the hospital with complications from stage IV breast cancer and a daunting schedule of treatments.
Without a paycheck and a new year with a new deductible, Collins, an administrative officer with the White River National Forest’s Glenwood Springs headquarters, was worried about how she’d survive.
Collins’ mother, Barb Tieyah, posted on the GoFundMe that was created for Fran in October: “We know God has a plan for this beautiful lady. She is such a strong woman and [her husband and two children] need her,” Tieyah wrote.
The donations that came in over the next few days allowed Collins to get hospice care set up at home, despite the shutdown.
“You realize people are looking out for each other in the community. I’m sure this isn’t the only act of kindness,” Collins said in an interview.
AN END, FOR NOW
The partial shutdown ended Friday after 35 days and two missed paychecks for most federal employees, with Congress and the president reaching a resolution to fund the government until Feb. 15. Though the shutdown may not have affected a large number of people in the Roaring Fork Valley, the community still came together to help those who needed it.
Employees who were furloughed will now receive back pay, but that doesn’t mean the month wasn’t difficult. The shutdown didn’t affect Collins’ ability to get treatment, but it added to the difficulty and stress of the treatments.
For Collins, the uncertainty was where to spend the money.
“What’s the point you’re going to hit where you can’t get back and forth to treatments? What’s my priority in bill paying? Keeping a roof over my head is the priority? Gas back and forth to treatments?” she said.
“Every federal employee is going to hit their limit where they’re no longer able to pay their bills. That’s my worry,” Collins said.
Businesses PITCH IN
Glenwood Springs-based Alpine Bank stepped in to help federal employees make it through their missed paycheck by offering a six-month, interest-free loan equal to one month’s salary.
More than 30 furloughed employees in the Roaring Fork Valley and nearly 900 in Colorado had applied for and received loans by Friday, said Glen Jammaron, vice chairman and president of Alpine Banks.
Alpine paid out more than $4 million of the $5 million the bank set aside for the loan program.
The government funding is only temporary at this point, and Alpine is working on when to start the six-month repayment period for the loans.
“This is a three-week, temporary deal. That probably doesn’t give federal workers a lot of warm fuzzy feelings,” Jammaron said.
Alpine will allow federal workers to apply for the loan program through Monday, but doesn’t want to start the clock on the repayment until there’s some surety the government will remain open.
“We won’t start the ticker on the interest-free period until we get that final resolution,” Jammaron said.
Alpine was far from the only local institution to help locals during the longest shutdown in history. Local churches offered food and to pay bills. Some hair stylists offered free haircuts.
Gilberto Landeros, owner of GLC Custom Finishes in Glenwood Springs, had advertised on Facebook that his company would help families affected by the shutdown, and, according to Collins, he just showed up with an offer to help with her medical bills.
“He came over, and we didn’t know who he was … just a nice gentleman who wants to help out in the community,” she said.
Landeros matched the donations any of his employees made to Collins, and helped other families affected by the shutdown.
“We’re just trying to help people in our community. We’re not going to change the world, but hopefully we can put a smile on people’s face,” Landeros said in a previous interview.
If it hadn’t been for the help of Landeros and others who donated to the GoFundMe, Collins said she would have had a much harder time continuing treatment. A total of 47 people donated to the GoFundMe, most of them in the past month, raising nearly $5,000 for her treatment.
“It allowed me to rent my bed, buy my wheelchair, ramps, transfer board, all that,” she said.
“No matter what the situation — cancer, shutdown, or somebody getting hurt — people are kind.” her mother said.
Last week, the family posted that the cancer markers in Collins’ blood had decreased, a sign of decreased tumors.
“We went to cancer treatment expecting more news like last week. But God stepped in and gave us some miracles,” the post said.