Opening a door for Roaring Fork Valley residents suffering in recession | PostIndependent.com

Opening a door for Roaring Fork Valley residents suffering in recession

Scott Condon
Aspen Correspondent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Photo courtesy of Brent Moss/Tom's Door
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A charitable organization that provides emergency financial aid to Roaring Fork Valley residents who typically don’t seek help is facing a lot of demand because of the state of the economy, according to the founders.

Tom’s Door is geared toward providing one-time aid per year to people who find themselves in a jam but don’t necessarily qualify for other assistance. The 501(c)3 organization distributed about $60,000 last year in average increments of $350. It helped 180 families or individuals in 2009 and had to turn away others seeking help.

“We’ve never had a lack of need,” said Paul Spencer, one of four members of the board of directors who have been with the organization since it was founded in Basalt nine years ago. But the list of people seeking aid is even greater these days, he said.

“It’s just amazing how many people are suffering in this affluent of valley,” said Rosie McSwain, who launched the organization in 2001.

Tom’s Door works mostly by word of mouth. It bought a bus ticket to Texas for a woman to attend her mom’s funeral. It helped a woman replace a water pump in her car. It helped a family pay a utility bill so the electricity wasn’t shut off.

It considers requests from Aspen to Parachute. The qualification process isn’t real cumbersome.

“If you need help, that’s the qualification,” Spencer said.

It coordinates with Catholic Charities in Glenwood Springs to make sure a recipient isn’t regularly getting help elsewhere. The goal, said McSwain, is to avoid helping people who are milking the system.

“We don’t want to help people with a hand out. We want to give them a hand up,” she said.

McSwain brought the concept for Tom’s Door when she moved to the midvalley from Minnetonka, Minn. The priest at her former parish, Arnie Webster, started a similar relief program called Arnie’s Door. The idea is you open your door by offering aid. That may open a door for someone in need.

McSwain told the three former priests at St. Vincent Catholic Church in Basalt and St. Mary of the Crown in Carbondale about the concept. Father Tom Bradtke, Father Tom McCormick and Father Tom Dentici encouraged her to start a similar organization, thus the name Tom’s Door.

The organization provided about $10,000 annually in aid during its first years. It’s grown six-fold but remained an all-volunteer organization. McSwain and Spencer have been on the board since the founding, along with Jan Huck and Maureen Marrs. Barbara Grant is a new member of the board.

Huck said it’s been inspiring rather than tiring to work with the organization for nine years. You receive more than you give by working with an organization that helps people in need, she said.

“I think we all just believe in it,” Huck said.

Unlike the early years, they’ve got help these days. More than 75 people volunteer time in one way or another to make Tom’s Door a success. The board members said the reliance on volunteer help assures donors that their funds go to the needy, not to administration.

Like many nonprofits, its contributions are sagging at a time when demand is soaring. For the fiscal year that started Nov. 1, it has received nearly $19,000 in charitable contributions. That’s down from $25,250 from the same period last year, Marrs said.

Tom’s Door will get by because it has built up a loyal collection of supporters.

“I think we’ve found a soft spot in people’s hearts for the kind of organization we are,” McSwain said.

There is a way to contribute and get an added bonus. A portion of income for Tom’s Door has always come from sales of 5-by-7 inch cards featuring stunning photography contributed by valley residents or visitors. A new collection of spring-summer cards is coming soon. There is also a library of nature, mountain landscape and seasonal photos available for sale for $3 each, minimum order of 30.

The cards can be ordered and more information obtained at http://www.tomsdoor.com.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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