Our Opinion: Guthrie Center's longtime outreach deserves support

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As the coronavirus crisis squeezes the economy, even the helpers are feeling the pinch.

For nearly three decades, the Guthrie Center — equal parts interfaith gathering place, community outreach center and performance venue — has attended to the needs of the least fortunate and the most vulnerable. From free community meals to helping those with AIDS and Huntington's disease to accessible arts programs, what founder Arlo Guthrie describes as "the best of the '60s idealism" has served as the nonprofit's motif: "to take care of each other."

Now, that mission unfortunately faces an extra barrier as a pandemic brings protracted financial uncertainty. While Mr. Guthrie says the organization normally tends to barely break even, the outbreak's grim toll has stricken some of the Guthrie Center's most important revenue streams, quieting the center's 10-week season as well as Mr. Guthrie's touring capabilities.

"All normal avenues open to us to continue to make a living have been shut down, just turned right off," he said.

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Now, an organization that prides itself on a long tradition of supporting its community is reaching out for a helping hand, asking for donations to keep its doors open and its mission alive. Those who donate can access a 30-minute virtual concert arranged by Mr. Guthrie, doing what he does best in musical gratitude of donors.

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The Guthrie Center's rich vein of artistic outreach goes to the heart of a Berkshire ethos of cultural vibrancy paired with local generosity, and small-town grit in advocacy for those most in need. It's an institution that, above all, has been there for its neighbors. Now it needs support, and it is certainly deserving.

Mr. Guthrie acknowledges that it's a tough time for an ask.

"We know the people we're asking to help are in trouble themselves ... but we have to do it, or the alternative is to shut the center and the church completely and that's what we're trying to avoid."

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Indeed, the Guthrie Center is not the only area aid service straining under the weight of coronavirus fallout; from food pantries and homeless shelters to support for addiction and abuse survivors, the cruelness of the pandemic has paired a more dire need with unprecedented operational difficulties.

The Guthrie Center, for its part, is taking what proactive measures it can. To streamline operations and help the center, Mr. Guthrie is moving his music studio/production company Rising Son Records from his family's Washington farm into the Great Barrington church where the center is located. Other nonprofits that can and haven't already might do well to incorporate this sort of shrewd consolidation into their plans to outlast coronavirus.

As the Guthrie Center approaches its 30th anniversary, its humble request for help reminds us that its existence was made possible through similar community support in the first place. Mr. Guthrie's down payment on the Old Trinity Church in 1991 was pooled from his own resources as well as 6,000 individual contributions. Most of those donations, Mr. Guthrie noted, were between $5 and $25. That might not seem like a lot, but it meant a lot to the Guthrie Center then, and it would now, too.


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