When hikers lug something up a mountain, it’s usually a gear-filled backpack. University of Denver grad student Brittney Woodrum, on the other hand, plans to summit almost all of the Centennial State’s 58 fourteeners from July to September with a green, 60-liter plastic box strapped to her back. An empty one.
The Kentucky native and veteran thru-hiker (Woodrum completed the Appalachian Trail in 2018) is taking up the mission on behalf of ShelterBox, a Santa Barbara, California-based NGO that provides aid to communities and families struck by disasters by delivering these green boxes, filled with necessities, to families in affected areas. One current response effort is unfolding in Vanuatu, a country in Oceania that was devastated by a Category 5 cyclone in early April.
Woodrum is one of a number of ShelterBox ambassadors who are attempting amazing feats across the country in order to raise money and awareness for the nonprofit. So far, the big green box has traversed the Mississippi River in a canoe, conquered an Iron Man, and run a marathon or two. Woodrum’s fundraising goal is $81,200 ($1,400 per peak) and says that any amount of donation helps. Those willing to sponsor a full peak, either as an individual donation or as a corporate gift, receive special privileges: Just think about how majestic a banner bearing your company’s corporate logo would look rippling at the 14,265-foot summit of Quandary Peak. (Despite Woodrum’s box being empty, enough people have voiced concerns about its bulkiness that she has decided not to take it on daunting summits like Capitol Peak. “It’s only 13 pounds with water and gear, but so bulky that it acts like a giant sail,” Woodrum says.)
With a pandemic on everyone’s minds, disaster relief efforts may seem like an afterthought right now. But the reality is “just because we’re in the middle of a pandemic, natural disasters don’t just stop,” Woodrum says. (Just look at the wildfires raging in the Centennial State right now.) The virus also creates an adverse impact on disaster response, since volunteers and organizations are hesitant to hop on a plane to visit a country and potentially bring the virus with them. Vanuatu was virtually untouched by COVID-19, so ShelterBox worked with a partner organization that was already in the region to get the community 1,000 shelter kits, which included 2,000 tarpaulins, 1,000 ropes, 4,000 solar lights, and 2,000 kitchen sets.
“The problem is that these disasters are just showing up as blips [in the media] and peoples’ awareness is way down,” Woodrum says. This is why the timing of Woodrum’s mission is especially vital. In an era when everything feels abstract and surreal, “climbing a mountain is a very clear and finite goal.” So is contributing to Woodrum’s fundraiser.