Vail Valley Cares breakfast doles out $460K in grants to 59 nonprofits

Leaders from the 59 local nonprofits who received grants from Vail Valley Cares take a group photo together before Thursday's breakfast.
Brian Maloney/Courtesy photo

Not wealth, not glitz, not snow totals. No, the truest measure of a community is how much it gives back and lifts up those in need.

On Thursday morning at Trinity Church in Edwards, the proof was in the numbers at the annual Vail Valley Cares breakfast. Leaders from 59 different nonprofits in Eagle County were on hand to receive some $460,000 in grant funding to support their work in the community.

It was a morning full of smiles and hugs and thankful speeches. There were nametags and paper cups full of steaming coffee and tasty breakfast burritos. And there were the record number of checks handed out by Vail Valley Cares Executive Director Greg Osteen while board member Jeff Apps talked about each organization on hand to receive its grant money.

How do you get 59 local nonprofits in one room to receive $460,000 in grants?

Start with a box of used clothes. OK, a couple of boxes.

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Vail Valley Cares Executive Director Greg Osteen delivers a check to a happy recipient at Thursday’s breakfast in Edwards.
Brian Maloney/Courtesy photo

Rivers Jardis, who was honored Thursday, started working on the Vail Valley Cares board back in 1994. She said the impetus for the creation of the ecumenical Christian help organization were the boxes of used clothes and other household items that kept showing up at the Vail Interfaith Chapel.

Rev. Benny Clark, who landed in the valley in 1991 to lead a fledgling Baptist congregation, and Jerry Milsaps, are the two men credited with turning donations of used clothes and other items into dollars for good in the Vail Valley.

In a place with so much affluence, they had a vision of just how much good could come from rescuing clothes and other items.

“At the beginning, it was very small, and it kept growing and growing and the needs kept growing,” said Tsu Wolin-Brown with the local Salvation Army. “Not only did it raise money that they could plug into nonprofits, but it helped a lot of our low income people, because at that time, you couldn’t shop in Vail if you didn’t have money. We didn’t have a Goodwill or any thrift shop. It’s just been exponential growth. It’s been just amazing.”

Humble beginnings, for sure, for an organization that now operates the two Thifty Shop locations in the valley and has doled out millions over the years in grants and scholarships.

Those brick-and-mortar stores in Edwards and Eagle provide local jobs, as well. Apps made a point of singling out the Thrifty Shop workers in attendance at Thursday’s breakfast to thank them for their hard work and encouraging everyone seated to do the same with a hug or a handshake.

Greg Osteen and Jeff Apps toast workers of the local Thrifty Shop locations at Thursday’s breakfast in Edwards.
Brian Maloney/Courtesy photo

Apps also joked that while some in the community believe that the owners of the Thrifty Shop are rich second-home owners who live in large homes in Bachelor Gulch, the truth is it has always been a locally-run operation built on putting as much back into the community as possible.

It’s not just the money that Vail Valley Cares provides. Established nonprofits in the valley got their starts with an initial grant from the organization. The annual breakfast also spawned a monthly call between nonprofits in the valley to help meet the needs of the community. That call, and the breakfast, continue to serve as a bellwether for how the community is doing, Wolin-Brown said.

It just works so much better to work together, she said — something that was reinforced at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, when widespread unemployment stretched local nonprofits to their limits.

“You can’t operate in a vacuum,” Wolin-Brown said. “This is one of the best examples of community partnerships, and I think our valley is really known for the community partnerships. We always have been.”

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