"Some people had been living here for nine months and didn't have dishes in their kitchen, and others were wearing the same pair of shoes that they had on when they first got to town," says musician and community activist Anthony Ruptak, speaking about refugees who recently arrived in the Mile High City.
"I went through most of my life not understanding the reality of the worldwide refugee crisis," says Ruptak, 26, a resident of Arvada who grew up in Bailey. "We're talking about people fleeing famine and whose homes were vaporized. If you go farther east on Colfax than you might normally go, there are lots of immigrant families and refugees living here. With everything going to shit in the world on so many levels and in so many ways, I just wondered, what specifically can I do to help? I know how to organize and book shows and how to raise money, and I had grown up in minority neighborhoods, where I made a lot of non-white friends. I realized that I needed to do something to help improve what's going on right here in Denver."
Ruptak joined forces with a few other like-minded people, including Corrie Vela Ehlar, who manages the Basic Needs Pantry at Mango House on East Colfax Avenue, which provides services for new refugees; KUVO DJ and jazz vocalist Venus Cruz; and several local bands. Together they organized a handful of events to help aid new immigrants to Denver. Their recent fundraiser at Illegal Pete's took in $1,400 for the African Community Center, while a summer event hosted at Syntax Physic Opera raised $1,200 with the musical assistance of Wildermiss, Alright Alright and Chimney Choir.
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Ruptak and friends are currently planning an event at Mango House that they hope will continue the trend.
"Illegal Pete's was great," Ruptak says. "They donated a good portion of their sales profit from that night, where we had some excellent musicians playing and an information table set up for people who wanted to learn more about refugees in Denver. This Mango House event is unique in that Corrie and I already have a space there that the owner, Dr. P.J. Parmar, lets us use. We operate a basic-needs pantry that provides clothes, food, cosmetics, toiletries and other items. The idea for this event is that attendees will come and bring something that will be well received by these families, in exchange for a free concert, food, crafts and an opportunity to interact with the refugees and make a difference in a fun and easy way."
The Mango House fundraiser will spotlight Ruptak and his brother, who play "lo-fi garage folk"; singer Cruz; singer-songwriter Dave Burchfield; and the group Los Mocochetes.
"This is entirely a 'by the people, for the people' model," says Ruptak. "We don't receive any money from the refugees we help. There will be free music, food trucks and handmade crafts from the refugee kids. It will be held at the Mango House community space upstairs, where there is a little stage and space for about 100 people. We'd like people to look in their closets and pantries and donate any items they can find. Whatever they bring will serve as their admission to the event."
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Through events such as these free concerts, Ehlar and Ruptak hope to increase the services that the basic-needs pantry provides. They plan to hold similar events in 2018. Mango House serves as a free clinic, food pantry, dentist and youth program center and is free to the refugee community. Since December of 2016, the community has come together to help provide for refugees' basic needs.
Dr. P.J. Parmar and the Mango House are located at Galena and Colfax. They see up to fifty patients a day, provide a home for after-school programs, scouting, food and basic necessities, English classes, dental and medical clinics and more.
"We're trying to get anything we can to keep it going," Ruptak says. "The refugees are just regular people like you and me who happen to need some help at this point in their lives."
Anthony Ruptak, Venus Cruz of KUVO Jazz Odyssey, David Burchfield and Los Mocochetes, 2 p.m. Saturday, December 9, Mango House, 1532 Galena Street, Aurora. Admission free; please bring donations to the pantry and wrapped gifts for children, marked with the appropriate age and gender of the recipient.