Nonprofit Spotlight: Charity offers cards and help from the heart
Post Independent Contributor
In an age of email, texting and social media, many might consider handwritten notes to be something of a lost art. Still, there is something undeniably special about receiving a card from a friend or relative — and one area nonprofit has spent the past 15 years helping residents in need while inadvertently keeping the greeting card tradition alive.
Tom’s Door, an interfaith organization founded in October 2001 by Carbondale resident Rosie McSwain, has raised more than $1 million for charity, in part by selling their signature note cards. That’s a lot of handwritten notes, and a lot of help for struggling community members.
“All funds raised from our card sales go toward short-term assistance for people who are facing some kind of unexpected emergency,” McSwain said. “We assist about 300 families per year, from Rifle to Aspen.”
McSwain can remember the day when the idea for Tom’s Door came to her.
“I had recently done an interdenominational retreat called Cursillo in Minnesota, and it was so moving,” McSwain, who is Catholic, recalled of her experience. “I just left there feeling differently about so many things. Then we moved here to the valley and one day my husband and I took a trip to Marble, where I took photos — probably four rolls of film even though I am not a professional photographer. When I got those developed and saw the incredible beauty, it was almost like a light went on in my mind. I thought, I can do something meaningful with these — do something for other people. And using the photos on cards seemed like a good way to start.”
Inspired by the beauty of our region and her recent experience at the spiritual retreat, McSwain approached a few friends for help with her idea. After deciding to sell cards with photographs of local scenes for charity, she approached Father Tom Bradtke at St. Vincent Church in Basalt for help. Soon, her cards were available for purchase there and at other area churches.
“Tom’s Door was in part named for Father Tom Bradtke, who helped so much in the beginning,” McSwain noted. “There were also two other Toms involved with our local parishes who helped us: Father Tom McCormick and Monsignor Tom Dentici. So the name felt fitting.”
As word of the new charity spread, Tom’s Door greeting cards sales grew. Donations rolled in. McSwain formed an all-volunteer board of directors, and officially received 501(c)(3) nonprofit status in 2005.
“It was amazing how Tom’s Door grew. As the economy worsened around 2008, the timing could not have been better — we began getting more calls than ever, and we tried to help as many people as we could,” she recalled.
As the workload increased, the organization sought help from other entities in the community. Today, partner organizations include the River Center in New Castle, Reach-Out Colorado in Rifle and the Family Resource Center in Glenwood Springs, which all help process requests for assistance.
However, McSwain herself still takes all calls from residents living between Carbondale and Aspen.
“I spend about 20 hours a week with Tom’s Door,” she said. “It has been a very humbling experience. I have learned that you just never know what people in the community might be going through — emergencies, the loss of a job, accidents — it’s important to withhold judgment.”
McSwain stressed that the organization does not hand out checks; rather, bills are paid directly after assistance is approved.
“I’ll even meet someone at the gas station to fill up their tank, if that’s what they need,” she said.
Georgine Garbarini, a Tom’s Door board member who helps with financials and special projects, noted that no other valley organization offers this same type of quick assistance.
“The funds we give help local residents who might be living paycheck to paycheck get over a hump, so to speak,” Garbarini said. “For example, maybe a family just needs a few hundred dollars to fix their car so the parent can get to work the next day, or maybe their child needs new glasses or medication. Or sometimes it’s just about making rent. This might seem like a small amount to some, but it can have a huge impact on quality of life.”
She also pointed out that although requests for assistance are screened, the organization does not require much in the way of follow-up.
“We don’t keep tabs on people,” Garbarini said. “We make sure that a person or family does not receive assistance more than once per year, but other than that, we give the funds from our hearts without expectations.”
McSwain agreed, but added: “There is actually one hitch. When people receive funds we say, ‘We’ve helped you, and now it is your turn to go out and help somebody else.’ Because that is always something everyone can do.”
Tom’s Door cards feature photos of local scenes donated by some 75 area photographers. The cards are stocked at many local retailers including Book Train in Glenwood Springs and the Village Smithy in Carbondale.
“Buy a card, help a neighbor,” McSwain said. “With Tom’s Door, it’s as simple as that.”
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