Roaring Fork Valley entities raise $12M for area-wide COVID-19 aid
The Aspen Times
Just over $12 million has been raised in the Roaring Fork Valley for COVID-19 relief and recovery assistance, and nearly $8.5 million of it has been distributed to help 17,000 households from Aspen to Parachute.
“Our community is one of the most generous there is,” said Tamara Tormohlen, executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation, which has tracked the fundraising through its nonprofit and government partners. “That generosity is hopefully preventing people from going off the cliff (financially).”
The money has come mostly from private donations and government subsidies, including $3 million from Pitkin County, the town of Snowmass Village and the city of Aspen.
The ACF has directly received $6.7 million, with the bulk of that going into a rescue fund set up by Aspenites Bob Hurst, Melony Lewis and Jerry Greenwald who have fundraised $5 million from 100 donors.
“They deserve a lot of credit,” Tormohlen said.
The fund supports social service nonprofits that are providing humanitarian assistance during the crisis, helping individuals who fall through the cracks receive the assistance they need, and seek ways to address gaps that exist in the region due to the scale of issues, whether it is citizenship, mental health, financial or a litany of others.
Another $1.7 million has come from another 100 donors, including individuals, foundations and governmental entities to the ACF’s COVID-19 regional response fund, which distributes the money to various nonprofits from Aspen to Parachute in times of disaster.
Tormohlen noted that ACF contributions have tripled since this time last year.
Of the $12 million donated, about $8.5 million has been doled out, according to Tormohlen, with almost $6 million dedicated to economic assistance and $1.6 million in food.
The remaining has gone to other needs including legal aid, assistance for domestic violence victims and baby supplies.
Based on data that the ACF has collected, there were 50,000 people contributing to the workforce in the region prior to the pandemic, and 22,000 of them lost income once COVID-19 hit the tri-county area, which does not take into account about 4,000 people who are undocumented.
Tormohlen said when considering those who have received unemployment, 17,000 households were left without income support.
“That turns out to be the same as our level of support to people,” she said, adding that the average amount of assistance has been $800 per person.
The majority of people the assistance has helped are those on the front lines of the resort community like housekeepers and hospitality workers, as well as those who work in construction.
The ACF has been working closely with the county and the city of Aspen, the latter of which donated $450,000 directly to the foundation.
Part of that city money was a match to a $200,000 donation by local resident Mark Styslinger through the Altec Styslinger Foundation.
The city also gave the county $500,000 toward its COVID-19 relief program to provide financial relief to city of Aspen residents in the areas of housing, utility, food and childcare assistance.
Snowmass kicked in $200,000, the county contributed in $500,000 and $218,000 came from private donations, according to Nan Sundeen, director of human services for Pitkin County.
Garfield County also contributed $100,000 to the ACF fund, in addition to $840,000 for various nonprofit assistance programs specific to Garfield County communities, and to bolster assistance available through its Human Services department.
The relief program, which also was fueled by state and federal money, was suspended on July 1 after issuing nearly $2.3 million in assistance to more than 3,400 Pitkin County residents since late-March.
“We need to pause and work with our partners to find the best vehicle (to distribute the funds),” Sundeen said. “We need the time and really assess the need and if we are the best organization to do this.”
Both Tormohlen and Sundeen agree the need will continue as the pandemic is expected to continue into next year.
“We are working with our community partners on what happens if there is no more (federal) stimulus or unemployment,” Sundeen said. “That is going to be a significant hit to the community.”
Because of the $600-a-week federal unemployment payments through July and the one-time $1,200 stimulus check, requests for assistance tapered off in June.
The county doled out just over $1 million in March, compared to just $25,000 in June.
Of all the requests through the county, shelter was No. 1, with more than $1.7 million going toward that.
The county’s relief fund served as a short-term financial bridge that allowed thousands of residents the time and peace of mind to file unemployment claims, and it also allowed other community nonprofits to begin to set up relief programs.
The city also contributed $1.5 million from its housing fund to help with rent, mortgage and HOA assistance in the 3,000 deed-restricted units in the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority inventory.
Of that amount, $600,000 has been spent, according to Sundeen.
“We are reaching out to the city to see what they want us to do with that money,” she said, adding she expects requests to increase once the offseason hits, layoffs occur and public health orders potentially change in response to rising cases of COVID-19.
“We don’t know what happens at the end of August,” she said. “This is a very tender time for everybody because there is no roadmap, no crystal ball.”
Tormohlen echoed the economic uncertainty and acknowledged donor fatigue when crises are long-lasting.
“We are still assessing and still in that economic response mode,” she said. “We acknowledge the generosity but there is still plenty of room for giving because there is more need here.”
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