Vail Valley Foundation rolls out community relief fund
More than 500 donors contributed, many of whom gave $100 or less
Since it’s inception in 1981, the Vail Valley Foundation has focused on arts, athletics and education. The foundation is now focused on more basic needs.
The foundation announced Wednesday it has raised more than $1.1 million for the VVF Community Matching Fund. The original target was $450,000. The fundraising campaign happened nearly as quickly as the COVID-19 virus shut down the valley.
Foundation director of public relations Tom Boyd said the campaign has run for less than two weeks. The foundation’s board of directors agreed to match individual donations, and those donations came quickly, from a lot of people.
A last-minute contribution of $130,000 came from Eagle County. That donation was matched by the foundation’s board of directors.
“It’s thanks to so many generous people and organizations that we made our goal,” said Mike Imhof, president of the Vail Valley Foundation. “This community is something special. It’s a place where everyone does everything they can, whenever they can, to support one another.”
More than 500 private donors wrote checks, and Boyd said that 65% of those donors contributed $250 or less.
“I don’t know whether to cry or smile or both,” Vail Valley Foundation Board Chairwoman Ann Smead said. “I’m so overwhelmed with the generosity of this valley.”
Donations came quickly
Smead said Imhof came to the board with the idea for a community relief fund, with board members providing matching funds for individual donations.
The first matching amount was set, and quickly nearly doubled, thanks to board member pledges.
Then the donations started coming in. Smead said amounts ranged from $10 to $25,000.
“I’d bet more than half are first-time donors,” Smead said. “There’s such wide-based community support. … People want to make a difference.”
Smead, a longtime board member and chairwoman since 2016, is a veteran of previous campaigns, including the one for the 2015 FIS World Alpine Ski Championships.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said.
The foundation’s relief effort comes when nonprofit and government services are overwhelmed by the sudden shutdown of the valley’s economy.
Local food banks have seen need skyrocket, and people can’t pay their rent, Smead said.
“These are important citizens of our community,” she said. Many of those affected operated small businesses — “the backbone of our community,” Smead said.
Money from the relief fund will be administered by a steering committee composed of some board members and other local residents who have a closeup view of the hardships valley residents are facing.
Funds will be distributed in four main areas: Food insecurity; behavioral health; shelter, clothing and household assistance; and youth and educational programs. At this point, 20 local nonprofits will receive funds for their work.
Food assistance is a critical need right now.
The Eagle Valley Community Foundation runs The Community Market food bank in Gypsum. Susie Davis of The Community Market said need has roughly tripled at the market.
Aid from the Vail Valley Foundation “is really important for us,” Davis said. The effort to create the relief fund “is exactly how you want foundations to work — reaching out and saying, ‘How can we help?’”
Behavioral health is a key element of the new fund’s efforts.
Erin Ivie is the director of Speak Up Reach Out, the valley’s nonprofit dedicated to suicide prevention.
Ivie said there are already starting to be behavioral health issues associated with the virus and economic shutdown. Additional resources are essential, Ivie said.
“It’s hard right now for a lot of people,” Ivie said, adding that additional available resources can “help break down barriers that may prevent people from seeking clinical help or peer support.”
The foundation’s relief fund, and the way money was raised, “shows that our community cares for one another,” Ivie said. “Everybody wants to play a role in being part of a mentally well community.”
Ivie said the foundation’s effort is part of local nonprofits working closely together.
“It’s not about I, me or you — it’s about we,” Ivie said.
Meeting critical needs
Davis said she’s seen the same thing at The Community Market. She estimated that 20% of those coming to the market these days are new.
“It’s amazing to me — I haven’t heard one harsh word about anything,” Davis said. While newcomers may be embarrassed by the need to visit a food bank, those people are surrounded by, and embraced by, those who know how to navigate tough times.
“The community’s really rising up … asking, ‘How can I help?’” Davis said.
Eagle County Commissioner Matt Scherr said despite the tough times, he’s seeing a number of silver linings in the current dark cloud.
“People are giving all over the place,” he said.
Smead said people should have expected the Vail Valley Foundation to provide some kind of help for the community.
“We should be able to respond to our community,” she said. “But I didn’t know it would be to this extent.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at email@example.com.