Sometimes, a soda machine is more than just a soda machine.
For nearly 15 years during the 1980s and 1990s, an oft-visited Coke machine in Loon’s maintenance center dispensed something far more nourishing than ice-cold refreshment: relief. For 15 years, every dollar, dime, quarter, and nickel fed into the machine by thirsty employees went directly to vulnerable members of the Lincoln-Woodstock community.
“The soda machine generated a fair amount of cash – sometimes we’d have $3,000 to $5,000,” says Rick Kelley, Loon’s longtime president and general manager. “We’d put it into a savings account and whenever we had an employee who had an issue – whether it was a fire or a health issue – we’d take money out of that account and use it to help them out. We called it the ‘Coke Fund.’”
Over time, most maintenance center employees were relocated to different parts of the resort and the pool of thirsty workers dried up. But the desire to help others remained as deep as ever. Last winter, the old ‘Coke Fund’ was reborn as the less sugar-dependent – but no less sweet – Loon Mountain Area Community Fund.
Today, if someone in the community surrounding Loon suffers from an accident, injury, medical issue, death in the family, fire, or natural disaster, that person can apply to the fund’s board of directors for help. It’s a simple, effective way to assist those who have helped make Loon what it is today. “It’s trying to preserve the wellbeing of the community that supports Loon, and those individuals that work here,” Kelley says. “In some cases, they’ve dedicated their lives to being in the ski business or tourism business.”
Loon’s decision to establish the fund during the resort’s 50th anniversary season held special meaning. The resort itself was founded in 1966 as a way to help the citizens of Lincoln and North Woodstock weather the slow dissolution of the town’s paper mill, which had sustained the local economy for nearly a century. It was those millworkers who built Loon and helped the resort thrive in its early years; today, many of their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren continue to work at the resort. The Loon Mountain Area Community Fund is Loon’s own small way of giving back to the community that helped it thrive.
As it turns out, there were plenty of people – longtime season passholders, locals and many others – who wanted to give back to the Loon community. On a frigid evening last January, more than 200 guests raised more than $30,000 for the fund at Loon’s 50th Anniversary Golden Gala. The vast majority of that money came during a raucous, high-stakes live auction, with bids reaching thousands of dollars apiece for season passes, trails signs, and historic Loon memorabilia. “To think that we could raise $30,000 in one night is pretty incredible,” Kelley says. “I think it just shows what the community of Loon is like. They have a lot of conviction about the area and the people in it.”
Kelly hopes that conviction will come full circle. This winter, Loon employees will have the option of donating to the fund through a payroll deduction program. Loon will match all employee donations, up to $5,000. “It goes back to the old Coke machine,” says Kelley, who has seen the full scope of humanity – births, deaths, tragedies, and successes – affect the community during his 40 years at Loon. “Every time you bought a soda, you were putting money into an account that helped others. It could be yourself – you never know.”
This year’s Golden Gala fundraiser is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 27. You can reserve tickets by calling 1-603-745-6281 ext. 5400.