Gary Butterworth had trouble finding the right words.
“It just seems surreal. It’s hard to describe the feeling,” he said in an interview. “The impact, the uncertainty, it’s just. ...” his voice trailed off.
Butterworth was describing the visible arrival of a global pandemic to the communities that lie at foot of Pikes Peak. The first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus (which causes the disease COVID-19) in El Paso County was identified on March 6, according to the county department of health. The first county death related to the illness was reported a week later, and on March 20, the Pikes Peak Community Foundation — of which Butterworth is the executive director — activated the Emergency Relief Fund.
The fund represents a partnership between the community foundation, the Pikes Peak United Way and the Pikes Peak Regional Office of Emergency Management, and is singularly tasked with supporting emergency relief in the region. Under the arrangement, the foundation administers the funding; the United Way serves on the regulating Emergency Relief Distribution Committee while simultaneously operating 2-1-1 to provide assistance and resource connections to impacted residents; and the office of emergency management acts as a lynchpin of disaster response, providing critical communications and resources for residents and responders, as well as offering immediate-need support during times of crisis.
The relief fund was previously activated following the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires, but Butterworth said this public health emergency was a first.
“Emergencies tend not to befall the entirety of a community. But every individual is touched by this,” he said.
When wildfires ravaged the Springs’ Mountain Shadows neighborhood and Black Forest, the impact was comparatively isolated and it became immediately evidence where the greatest needs lay. But with COVID-19, Butterworth said, “This is everywhere and it’s the entirety [of the community]. That’s what makes this weird.”
As of March 27, the fund had awarded $429,000 to 18 El Paso and three Teller county organizations including Colorado Springs Food Rescue, Harrison School District 2, Kingdom Builders Family Life Center and Silver Key. Total requests, however, were considerably greater at $3.02 million. Grant applications are always being accepted, reviewed and answered on a rolling basis, Butterworth said, and according to the fund’s website, the foundation is prioritizing basic human needs such as food, shelter and health care for the area’s most vulnerable residents.
As such, the foundation is not only seeking donations, but grant applications from nonprofits that can help fill those urgent demands and rebuild after the storm passes.
“There is an immediate need, but we also know that there’s going to be a longer-term recovery process here,” Butterworth said. “Based on the situation, our objective is to enable philanthropic funds to be dispersed and mobilized very quickly.”
And better yet, that mobilization is taking place right here at home.
The partnership behind the fund both gives would-be donors a credible way to ensure their dollars are staying in the community, and offers local support agencies quick access to a critical lifeline. And in a time when the outbreak leaves so many questions unanswered — how long will it take to pass, what will be the long-term social and economic costs and what will the community look like on the other side, among others — the foundation and relief fund are in for the long haul, Butterworth said.
“We see this and we know we’re not going to be able to be able to fund all of this, but we’re a centralized hub of information that can share with other funds, with individuals, with businesses, with government sectors to say: ‘Look this is what we’re seeing. This is the scope,’” Butterworth said. “This is trying for everybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re a kid or a stay-at-home parent, this is just a weird state.
“I can only imagine how it is for people on the front lines, the health care workers, the folks at Care and Share [Food Pantry for Southern Colorado], the folks at the various nonprofits, Silver Key, all those who are working around the clock to provide the services. We’re all impacted by this.”
To learn more about the Disaster Relief Fund, either as a donor or an applicant, visit ppfc.org/relief.