by Marissa Lorenz
After the East Troublesome Fire exploded in a fire storm the night of October 21, 2020, growing over 100,000 acres in just a few hours, forcing the evacuation of thousands of people, destroying 550 structures, including 366 homes, and resulting in the loss of two beloved homeowners, Grand County was left in shock.
But reflective of the resilient people who are drawn to these remote mountains, an upwelling of care and response soon followed. Individuals, businesses, and other community entities banded together to offer shelter, organize food and clothing collection and distribution, and established processes to get needed resources to evacuees.
Friends, neighbors, and strangers looked for ways to help. And it was in that early time that Christa Kopp of Kremmling remembered having ordered tee-shirts to support wildfire efforts in Colorado even before becoming a permanent resident of the state herself.
Kopp immediately reached out to the Kremmling Area Chamber to discuss a tee-shirt drive for the East Troublesome Fire, and Director Tara Sharp and Assistant Director Brittany VanderLinden readily joined the effort. Dawna Heller, owner of Mountain Mama’s Embroidery and Screenprinting was the final piece to a puzzle that would be fully put together in less than a week.
“Christa is the brains, and Dawna is the executor,” Sharp describes.
The four women quickly established a partnership and process that, to date, has raised $9,056.53 for wildfire recovery aid.
In days, Heller had ordered tee-shirts at cost, designed a unique image–a majestic mountain range, reading “Troublesome Fire 2020–Rocky Mountain Strong-Hold the Line,” and printed 100 shirts. Sharp and VanderLinden put the word out and offered to take and prepare orders. And Kopp, Kremmling’s postmaster, assumed responsibility of bagging the items so they’d be ready to ship.
The Chamber posted the fundraiser to Facebook and sales began on October 28, the same day the Chamber was hosting its first Halloween Town Square Scare. The next morning, the project was featured on 9News and, while the women had initially thought to raise between $500 and $1,000, they were quick to realize that they couldn’t stop there.
Sharp and VanderLinden tell of being overwhelmed with online and phone orders from people near and far who also wanted to help victims of the destructive fire. Heller soon enlisted more of her Mountain Mama’s team members to help with printing.
And Kopp wrangled her partner into bagging in their off hours.
In response to customers, the tee-shirt drive expanded to include hoodies and custom orders. The Chamber has recorded 566 regular sales. And Heller estimates she’s printed 800 tee-shirts and hoodies and nearly 200 more customized items.
The printed tops have been shipped as far as Virginia, Alaska, and Hawaii. And for nearly every shipment, a story has been told,
a memory has been made, and/or a connection has been created.
The women say that they have heard many sad stories and that both wildland firefighters and other fire victims have bought the items to support other victims. They report lots of support from Estes Park, which was not only threatened by the East Troublesome Fire, Colorado’s second-largest wildfire in history, but by the Cameron Peak Fire, the first-largest, at the same time.
One individual special ordered polos for their entire office staff.
And one gentleman’s wife was ill at the time he ordered, so VanderLinden started checking in with a weekly phone call. She is still checking in, nearly four months later and subsequent to his wife’s passing.
“It has been amazing to see the community come together,” said Sharp.
“Everyone has been really generous with their donations,” Heller noted, “but they’ve also been very patient with the process, as we were trying to figure things out. They’ve been super gracious and just want to help.”
The project has already donated $5,000 of the monies raised to the Grand County Wildfire Emergency Fund, being managed by the Grand Foundation and fully dedicated to supporting Grand County residents impacted by fire-related loss.
They hope to round the total raised up to $10,000 through additional sales and donations and by, perhaps, a donation from the Chamber itself.
Emergency Fund monies are being used to aid citizens with such immediate necessities as shelter, food, debris removal, and reseeding. Other potential needs, such as short-term rental assistance, or longer-term flood reduction efforts, water quality support, reforestation, and mitigation assistance to nonprofits and fire departments are being carefully considered, on balance with the limited funds and large needs in the community.
As the tee-shirt and hoodie stock gets smaller, the group has shut down online sales, but will continue to take phone orders and sell items at Chamber events, while supplies last.
Tee-shirts cost $15 with $10 going to the recovery fund, and hoodies are $25 with $15 being donated. Additional funds are used to pay for the clothing and shipping costs and materials. All time is being donated with full hearts.
Finally, the team of women emphasize that 100% of the Wildfire Emergency Fund goes directly back to victims of the East Troublesome fire.
To learn more about the Grand County Wildfire Emergency Fund or to donate directly, go to www.grandfoundation.com/Give/Wildfire-Fund. To support the cause and get your own tee-shirt or hoodie, call the Kremmling Area Chamber of Commerce at 970-724-3472.