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Rarely has the holiday spirit been so evident.

The latest Gazette/El Pomar Foundation Empty Stocking Fund raised $1,206,371 — the third-highest total in the campaign’s 35-year history, and the most raised in nearly 10 years, said Deb Mahan, the fund’s director.

The most recent campaign brings the total since 1984 to $21 million. And it brings to 12 the number of years it has topped $1 million.

Every penny went to 20 nonprofits spanning much of the Pikes Peak region’s safety net, including children in preschool, homeless families, domestic violence survivors and hospice patients. All administrative costs were covered by Wells Fargo, ADD STAFF, El Pomar Foundation, The Anschutz Foundation and The Gazette.

On Thursday, nonprofit leaders said the money would be critical to meeting the needs of thousands of people across the Pikes Peak region. Recipient organizations are granted flexibility in how to spend the money — a blessing, considering that most other grants can be used only for specific programs.

At Urban Peak, for example, that meant $69,000 for their core services — sheltering homeless youths and helping them find jobs and more permanent housing, said Shawna Kemppainen, the nonprofit’s executive director.

“It’s unfancy, but it’s absolutely critical, because you can’t think about expansion, you can’t innovate, you can’t take a risk if your core operating funds are not strong and healthy,” Kemppainen said.

For Catholic Charities of Central Colorado, this year’s $89,000 check is expected to help fund several programs, including meals at the Marian House Soup Kitchen, as well as some services for homeless families at the Helen Hunt Campus.

“What’s bigger for us is really the ability to count on this campaign each year,” said Andy Barton, the organization’s president and CEO. “It allows us to be a little bit more innovative. It allows us to not operate in that scarcity mentality, so we can go deeper with the people we’re serving.”

Several changes were made last year to the Empty Stocking Fund — chief of which was hiring Mahan, in an effort to make the campaign more of a year-round endeavor. The campaign also underwent a rebranding effort, and the fund’s website was redesigned, making it easier to donate.

The full-time leadership was apparent, multiple nonprofit leaders said.

“The campaign — it feels to me very refreshed,” said David Ervin, CEO of The Resource Exchange. This organization received about $42,000, which will go toward its core services of helping thousands of children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

This year’s campaign officially began on Thanksgiving with more than $118,000 in the bank, thanks to several fundraisers earlier in 2018. Its coffers ballooned over the ensuing eight weeks with the help of about 2,000 donors, and donations gathered at more than 25 events.

Included in that was $200,000 from El Pomar Foundation, as well as $70,000 from the Bruni Foundation — each of which pledged to match other donations during the campaign, as they have for several years.

Work on the next Empty Stocking Campaign is underway. Fundraisers are planned throughout the upcoming year, to help the campaign grow as the area’s population — and the people in need — continue to increase.

That means the opportunities to give will arrive much sooner than in past years, Mahan said.

“What we really do is support these agencies year-round,” she said.

“It’s just going to be a process of more and more opportunities throughout the year for people to give to Empty Stocking Fund, be a part of Empty Stocking Fund.”

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