Weeks after Seanan Culloty lost everything in a house fire, he walked into Alpine Bank in Durango ready to talk about options to purchase a home.
Instead, he was surprised with a $5,000 check.
“All the sudden, Rotary, Chris Bettin and Alpine Bank came out and surprised me with this check from Chris Bettin,” said Culloty, head chef and manager at Manna, a Durango soup kitchen. “At first, I thought it happened to be a coincidence that they happened to be at Alpine at the same time. ... Then I was just blown away.”
Culloty was able to recover only a few photos and a cast iron pan from his apartment after the Feb. 6 fire in north Durango. In the weeks since, the community has rallied around him: Manna started a GoFundMe for Culloty with the goal to raise $10,000. It had raised $25,105 as of Wednesday.
“I just wanted to thank everyone for the unbelievable support,” Culloty said. “It was really scary and sad what happened. ... Durango is just unbelievable.”
Surprising Culloty at Alpine Bank was a team effort. But the idea started with the Red Ball Express fundraiser supporting the Rotary Clubs of La Plata County.
Every year, people purchase tickets as donations to the fundraiser. Winning tickets, determined by running red balls down a track, deal out $5,000, $2,000 or $1,000 prizes.
Bettin, a Durango City Council member and real estate broker, bought tickets this year on a whim. The same day he heard about the fire at Culloty’s house, he found out he won the top prize.
“Seanan was top of mind. The first thing I said was, ‘Well, can I donate that?’” Bettin said.
“We were blown away,” said Rick Smith, chairman of the Red Ball Committee. “Nobody has ever done that. But that’s the nature of people that live here.”
Smith said it fit perfectly with what the Red Ball Express was designed to do: helping nonprofits and people in need. The fundraiser, which raised about $38,000 this year, first launched in La Plata County after the Missionary Ridge Fire in 2002.
“He spends his livelihood helping others less fortunate in our community,” Bettin said. “For him to lose everything he had was just something that really hit home.”
Rotary Club members, Bettin and Alpine Bank cooked up a plan to surprise Culloty with the money Tuesday.
“It was just incredible. Words can’t even explain how amazing that was,” Culloty said. “Not only that, but the GoFundMe that the community did, just all the community support. It’s incredible.”
Culloty serves on the Colorado Restaurant Association and before joining Manna, where he helps feed Durango’s most vulnerable populations, he was executive chef at Ken & Sue’s.
Since the fire, Culloty said he has been going day-by-day. He is staying with friends while looking for a permanent place to live.
He plans to use the community donations for the basics: a bed, bedding, kitchen supplies, toiletries ... everything, he said.
“I just feel so grateful for being able to get on my feet so quickly,” he said.