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T-shirt fundraiser for Colorado wildfire relief takes off

Graphic designers thought they were doing some good for the Colorado Springs relief effort, but when their T-shirt fundraiser became an overwhelming success, they realized they had struck a chord.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — When the wind pushed the Waldo Canyon blaze over the crest of the mountains toward this community one week ago, young business owners and designers here set out to raise money for the victims.

"There was a real feeling of helplessness," says one of the initiators, Tucker Wannamaker, who owns a small marketing firm. "You just wanted to do something."

The goal was to design and sell enough T-shirts to raise $1,500, which they figured was more than they could donate if they each wrote a check.

Wild Fire Tees

But they miscalculated — by 21,300 percent. With the aid of social media, online orders for their artfully designed Wild Fire Tees generated $320,000 within six days. They said they plan to donate 100 percent of the proceeds to the food bank Care and Share and the Colorado Red Cross, two organizations at the heart of the relief operation here.

They quickly realized they couldn’t handle the volume of printing in house, so they looped in a local T-shirt shop to help, and now are arranging larger-scale production in Denver, said Wannamaker.

Now the group -- a dozen or so business owners and designers, along with assorted partners and babies in tow -- are hunkered down, vetting new designs and answering calls for orders while working out the logistics of delivering the goods. 

Red Cross volunteers in the trenches for wildfire in Colorado

Orders even came from Canada, Denmark and Britain, Wannamaker says, with a huge spike of orders right after the majority of houses were destroyed last week.

One of the latest ideas is for people to donate money for T-shirts that are to be given to firefighters as tokens of appreciation. Wild Fire Tees has sold 650 of them – well on their way to 1,000 orders needed to outfit the entire army battling the blaze.

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The sudden volume of money coming in for T-shirts set off alarms at PayPal and set the little group scrambling to complete registration of their nonprofit with the federal government — a headache, one of the team says, but a good problem to have.

Wild Fire Tees has adjusted their fundraising goal, to $500,000 for distribution to wildfire relief statewide.

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Volunteers from the American Red Cross explain what goes into the relief effort around the wildfires at Colorado Springs.

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