AURORA | In the hours after the July 20 theater shootings, area restaurateurs were hard at work, making hundreds of meals for the first responders.
They filled almost any vehicle they could with food and hauled it all over town to police officers, paramedics and firefighters who had been working long hours since the movie theater massacre.
“We had just a huge response from the group,” said Gayle Jetchick, executive director of the Havana Business Improvement District.
The local business community’s efforts haven’t stopped since.
Seemingly every weekend since the July 20 shootings, businesses around town have hosted events for the victims, raising thousands of dollars along the way.
Shortly after the shootings, local car dealer Ed Bozarth gave $50,000 to the victims.
Bozarth said the hefty donation was one of the biggest his chain of dealerships, which includes Ed Bozarth Chevrolet on Havana, has ever made.
“We’ve been here 30 years, Aurora has been very, very good to us,” he said.
Since the shootings, donors have given about $5 million to the victims. On Tuesday, several victims came forward and said they were frustrated with how that money has been distributed.
Bozarth said he understands some frustration, but said figuring out how so much money will be distributed will take time.
“They’ve had to sort out a lot of things,” he said.
Gibby’s Sports Tavern near South Havana Street and East Florida Avenue last weekend hosted a “Celebrate Aurora” end -of-summer party that raised more than $6,000 for the victims.
Garrett Ladd, the general manager at Gibby’s, said that throughout the day, a few thousand people came through and donated cash, bid on silent auction items or simply partied for a while with their friends.
In addition to all that, the bar donated 20 percent of Saturday’s sales, he said.
When Gibby’s planned the event, several beer and liquor distributors stepped in to help out, Ladd said, something that made the event possible.
“Without that it just doesn’t happen,” he said.
It’s hard to find someone who wasn’t impacted at least indirectly by the July 20 shootings, and Ladd said that’s the case at his bar. The Red Robin restaurant where several victims worked is across the street, and most of his employees knew someone impacted by the shootings.
“We knew that we needed to team up and do our part,” he said.
For Ladd, it was also important to show some pride in his hometown. Ladd, who graduated from Gateway High School in 1989 after attending Aurora Hills Middle School and Crawford Elementary School, said despite what happened last month Aurora is a special place to live.
“It’s rare to find a city that is more culturally diverse but all together at the same time,” he said.
And, having lived here his whole life, Ladd said he knows how friendly the city is.
“It’s not a town where people don’t wave and say hi, help you when you have to change a tire,” he said. “If you want an example of what suburban life should be, it should be Aurora.”
At Chambers Wine and Liquor, owner Lee Earnhart said that sense of community is part of the reason his store is hosting a benefit for the victims Sept. 1 called “Aurora Rises.”
“It’s a statement for our community, we are together, it could have happened any place,” he said.
The event at the liquor store on the southwest corner of East Iliff Avenue and South Chambers Road is scheduled for 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and will feature food and live music.
Earnhart said proceeds from food sales and 100 percent of the store’s net profits that day will go to the victims.
The shooting hit close to home for Earnhart, who has been in Aurora for 33 years. Five of his employees were in the theater that night and while they made it out safe, some had friends who were killed.
“They came to me and wanted to know if I would help them do something,” he said.
And, Earnhart said, he was happy to do it.
“You’ve gotta give back, if you can’t give back to your community, you shouldn’t have it,” he said.