Saturday, March 28, 2020

Local non-profits adapt to COVID-19’s impacts

“This one really got us”

by Kristy Acuff

Across the Gunnison Valley, the impacts of the COVID-19 virus are being felt by schools, businesses and local governments. The valley’s non-profits are not immune to the impacts either and are cancelling events, losing revenue, feeling staff shortages and holding their collective breath until the pandemic passes.

The Gunnison Country Food Pantry has not seen a surge in demand from valley residents yet, but is bracing for that possibility while undergoing volunteer shortages. Katie Dix, executive director for the pantry, reports that this week, 45 families visited the pantry, numbers that are on par with 2019. However, Dix anticipates the need to grow as local businesses shut their doors and people are out of work.

Dix reports, “In 2019, recipients visited the pantry 7,000 times. The pantry is expecting to see a dramatic increase in the number of those in need. The longer people are out of work, the greater the worry and fear associated with food insecurity will be.”

To accommodate the need and to maintain social distancing, the pantry is serving only one recipient at a time and extra care is being taken about distancing and cleaning surfaces between recipients. Dix adds, “Innovative approaches to distribution will evolve as the county mandates change. The pantry will be collaborating with the Department of Health and Human Services to provide and deliver food assistance to seniors and those quarantined with COVID-19.”

In addition, the virus is causing staffing shortages at the pantry, which relies heavily on senior citizen volunteers, most of whom have been advised to stay home. According to Dix, “The majority of pantry staff are citizens 60 years old and older who have been advised to stay home or Western Colorado University students who have already gone home.”

The pantry currently needs healthy volunteers to help with food pickups around town five mornings a week or to help prepare the pantry for distributions on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings. Anyone willing to help should call the pantry at (970) 641-4156.

“The Gunnison County community is proving to be considerate and generous to our neighbors in need,” Dix says. “Restaurants that are closing are donating their produce and other food to help others. Experience shows that when the community is alerted that the pantry is running low on food, donations and cash contributions will come.”

Donations are gratefully accepted most mornings and during open hours in the afternoons or by arrangement.

While the pantry is anticipating a growing need for its services, many of the valley’s other non-profits are experiencing funding shortfalls and decreased activity as a result of early closures and cancelled fundraising events.

The Adaptive Sports Center closed its doors three weeks early, resulting in 700 lessons being cancelled and more than $75,000 of lost revenue as a result, according to Adaptive executive director Chris Hensley.

“The decision to close was made by staff and was supported by our board,” writes Hensley. “We were concerned about bringing our clients (many of whom fall into the higher risk category) into the valley where our healthcare system may be overwhelmed. We needed to do our part by limiting the interaction between people, so we decided to close our doors before it was mandated by the county.”

Staff at Adaptive will continue to be paid their regular rate for the rest of the season, thanks to the reserve fund, according to Hensley.

Hensley is concerned about the virus’ impacts on the local and national economies and the ripple effect on Adaptive’s fundraising events like the Crested Butte Open and the Bridges of the Butte townie tour. “With the state of the economy, our fundraising will likely take a hit,” Hensley says. “Thanks to our supporters, our long history of success and our prudent financial management, we are confident that we will see it through.”

For now, Adaptive plans to resume training for summer programming in May, with participants scheduled to arrive beginning in June.

Crested Butte Nordic faces an uphill challenge as it negotiates the impacts of cancelling the 2020 Grand Traverse race, which it announced on March 13. The race was scheduled for March 28-29.

“This is our biggest fundraiser of the year. This event revenue is so critical to our budget that we have a registration refund policy that covers cancellation due to weather or certain other perils,” says Crested Butte Nordic executive director Christie Hicks. “However, it does not cover illness or epidemics, nor does it cover state- or county-issued mandates like the one we are facing. So we are trying to determine what to do in terms of refunds.”

Hicks says the event was full, with 250 teams registered and another 30 on the wait list. Crested Butte Nordic was hoping to pull it off since the event is outdoors, but with the closing of both CBMR and the Aspen ski area, and the county limiting gatherings to no more than ten people, there was no choice.

“We were hopeful that because we were an outdoor event we might be able to pull it off. We were going to have the racer meeting online, space everyone out at the start, etc.,” she says. “By the time the governor gave the order it was clear we would not be permitted to have the event, even with precautions.”

Crested Butte Nordic is still grappling with how to accommodate the would-be racers who paid $420 per team to register. Some participants have donated the fee to the Nordic Center and others are willing to roll it into next year’s race registration but for many, it is not clear what the next step is.

“This close to the race, our cancellation/refund policy states that we will refund 25 percent of registration fees if a racer wants to drop. In the event of cancellation due to weather, our main concern up to this point, we have a separate registration protection policy that would refund 100 percent of participant’s registration fees, but that unfortunately does not apply to this crazy scenario,” Hicks acknowledges. “We never anticipated this situation, even though the board and I pride ourselves on anticipating, and being prepared for, many unlikely scenarios, hence the registration refund policy. This one really got us.

“Some of our would-be racers have already offered to let us keep their race fee as a donation, understanding that we face tough times ahead. However, we assume that many others are in difficult financial positions themselves right now, and would like to see some money refunded or rolled to next year,” Hicks says. “So we are trying to figure out a percentage of registration fees that we can refund, while still ensuring that we are here to host the race next year. Many costs have already been realized. Rolling team registrations over to next year is more complicated than we’d like, but we are looking at all our options.”

KBUT public radio was forced to postpone its largest annual fundraiser, Soul Train Night, as a result of Governor Polis’ March 13 ban on any gathering of more than 250 people. That ban now applies to much smaller gatherings. Jackson Petito, executive director of KBUT, hopes to reschedule the disco dance party for possibly June or more likely, September, this year. The wildly popular party sells out at 1,000 tickets every year, the maximum allowed by the Crested Butte Fire Protection District.

“Soul Train sells out every year, and we had already sold about 300 tickets four weeks out from the scheduled date, so another sell-out was assured,” says Petito. “Soul Train is consistently our largest fundraising event every year. We will take a hit, but are confident that our community will help us stay on the air, especially as we demonstrate the value of live local news and information during these unprecedented events. I also expect we’ll more than make the shortfall up when we finally get to have the party later this year.”

Another locals’ favorite, the Al Johnson Memorial uphill downhill telemark race, will not happen this season but aside from the negative impact on local morale, the financial impact is minimal. The race is a fundraiser for the Crested Butte Avalanche Center and according to Than Acuff, CBAC executive director, “We don’t make too much money as a result of the Al Johnson. It was always more about keeping the tradition alive and going, but we do need every dollar.”

With the closure of the ski area, more locals are heading to the backcountry and Acuff encourages everyone to stay safe and utilize the CBAC resource. “We recognize that the closure of the ski area will bring more people into the mountains to keep skiing and we ask everyone to continue to check the daily bulletin, to continue to practice proper backcountry safety protocols and to keep observations coming in,” he advises.

From one end of the valley to the other, non-profits are feeling the pinch, thanks to the closures and demands mandated by the pandemic. “These are definitely daunting times for us and the community as a whole for the near future, but we will pull through this,” concludes Hensley.

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