HATS: A hand-up rather than a hand-outWritten by Echo Renner
Greybull – Hands Across the Saddle (HATS), a crisis fund for Wyoming’s Big Horn Basin residents, has helped over 150 individuals and families by dispersing $175,000 since August 2009.
Actor and Greybull area rancher Wilford Brimley and his wife Beverly originated the idea of a group to help individuals and families down on their luck. Others soon joined the cause and formed the non-profit organization. A HATS committee privately reviews requests and awards funds based on need and availability. All recipients and donors are confidential.
Wilford knows from experience folks like to help others in need. While living in Ada, Okla., Brimley started the Cowboy Crisis Fund with friend Bill Montin, who has served as the HATS auctioneer in 2009 and 2011.
“People will help one another if they are given an opportunity. But if you legislate that they must, they’ll try to find ways not to,” comments Wilford. “This is not a really wealthy community. But, the people here have bunched together and made this thing fly high.”
“Everything is donated,” Beverly explains. “We have people from everywhere supplying what we need. They are wonderful. We don’t have any administrative costs or overhead. We had a tough time explaining that to the IRS when we applied for our non-profit status. They couldn’t believe we didn’t have administrative costs. Every single dime goes directly into the HATS beneficiary account to help our friends and neighbors in crisis.”
HATS was organized in 2009. In a few short months the group raised over $80,000 from contributions and by hosting a two-day event with a Red Steagall concert, dinner, auction and steer roping.
In 2010 HATS raised $104,000 with a similar two-day event and bronc riding, starring cowboy humorist Baxter Black.
This year, HATS featured a bronc riding in June – a date that worked well for bronc riders in the Mountain States Circuit – and raised over $24,000. On Aug. 13 the organization hosted a barbecue, Gary Morris concert, dance and auctions, raising about $83,000, making the total so far for 2011 about $107,000.
“We are pleased with the results, and appreciate the many individuals who give their time, talent, money and support,” says Beverly. “We feel the most important factor in the success is that Big Horn (Basin) residents believe in what HATS does… and know every single dime goes directly into the beneficiary account to help our friends and neighbors in crisis.”
“You hear about somebody having a hard time with something,” describes Beverly, “and your first response is ‘Gosh, I’m sorry to hear that.’ We don’t have to say that. We can say, ‘We might be able to help you with that.’ Sometimes just the tiniest bit helps. Around here, benefits were mainly dinners and jars on counter tops in businesses, but no one asks for donations until somebody’s had a disaster. We thought of a better way to do it, to earn more money for those people, and preserve their dignity. Their face is not on a jar on a café counter, but there is a way to help. It’s very confidential. We can’t do huge things, because we want to make sure we have enough to help several people. Sometimes all it takes is $77 to get someone through a crisis. Many requests are for $100 or less.”
Wilford adds, “This money goes strictly to help folks who need it for travel expenses to seek medical care, a widowed grandmother who has to put back something on the grocery store shelf because she doesn’t have the money, folks who need help affording a prescription and things like that. There are no government forms to fill out, and no silliness to go through. Folks who need help should simply contact one of the committee members.”
“Most of the requests don’t come from individuals themselves,” Beverly says, “they come from friends, neighbors or family members. Some of the folks we offer to help say, ‘Thanks, but no. We’re doing just fine.’ Most of the time, people need just a small amount of money to help them get by. We pay the funds directly to the creditor.
“For example, if someone needs help with a gas bill, we pay the money directly to the gas company. So instead of a bill saying ‘Past Due’ it says ‘Paid in Full.’ Several requests are medical–related. Many people have insurance, but need help with things like travel expenses or a hotel room to get to the doctor for treatment.”
Wilford recently appeared in the film Did You Hear About the Morgans? set in Wyoming but filmed in New Mexico, with Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant. He’s known for his roles in The Firm, Cocoon, The China Syndrome, The Natural and Absence of Malice, as well as television film Crossfire Trail with Tom Selleck. Wilford also appeared in ads for Quaker Oats and Liberty Medical, a company that provides diabetes testing supplies.
Prior to his acting career, Wilford worked as a ranch hand, wrangler, blacksmith and as bodyguard for Howard Hughes. He then shod horses for film and television, and began acting during the 1960s as a riding extra and stunt man in Westerns. In 2007 Wilford and Beverly moved to Greybull and purchased a ranch.
“Wilford and Beverly Brimley have brought something great to the Big Horn Basin,” says Dave Denton of Thermopolis. Dave and his wife Cindy are HATS board members. “They have brought a classic saddle bronc riding event and great entertainers. But more than that, a sense of community spirit that says in Wyoming ‘we can take care of our own.’ Hands Across the Saddle is the spirit of Wyoming.”
“I believe people who can should help their neighbor,” adds Wilford, “We have a responsibility to give back. If all we do is take, pretty soon we wind up with nothing.”
Beverly says others have approached HATS board members with interest in starting similar groups in other parts of the state.
“We are more than happy to help them out by letting them know what has worked for us, and giving them ideas,” she says.
Plans for the 2012 event are in the works, with Riders in the Sky tentatively scheduled. The ongoing HATS fundraiser is the sale of T-shirts and hoodies, available at the Greybull Building Center.
Beverly says, “Some of the committee members like to say HATS is a hand-up rather than a hand-out, and that’s pretty much what it turns out to be.”