Among her philanthropic efforts over the past three years, Erin Chisolm helped raise more than $180,000 for fire departments throughout the state. Photograph by Gabriella Marks.
ERIN CHISOLM’S BOLD NEW MISSION dawned on her in the middle of March, when an Albuquerque neighbor asked to “borrow” a roll of toilet paper.
“I joked with her. I said, ‘Really? You’re not going to give that back, I hope,’ ” she recalls. A few days into the COVID-19 restrictions, Chisolm, who owns the Chisolm Trail RV dealerships in Albuquerque and Aztec, wondered who else needed help.
“I figured that if my neighbors, who make good money and are not poor by any means, are having trouble getting basic supplies, I’m sure others are in the same boat,” she says.
Before long, she found herself making 6 a.m. runs to Walmart, filling multiple carts with groceries for seniors and others who responded to offers of assistance. Chisolm and her three kids, ages 16, 6, and 4, began an assembly line of care packages in their garage. Meanwhile, the list of people who needed assistance grew into the hundreds.
When Chisolm RV employees saw their boss struggling with a trailer full of supplies, they began pitching in. The business pivoted from RV sales to pandemic delivery team as Chisolm saw a way to keep her staff employed and engaged.
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By May, Chisolm and her team, including State Auditor Brian Colón and employees at both Chisolm RV branches, had delivered groceries to more than 6,000 families, serving around 180,000 meals.
Chisolm doesn’t really know where she got the passion for helping others. As an adopted kid with a gigantic heart and an excess of now-or-never energy, she gives back as if it’s second nature. But she won’t tell you that. She’s laser-focused on what needs to get done next.
Before our phone interview, she had just finished a COVID care package for her father, who tested positive for the disease the day before. Soon after calmly dropping that worrisome detail, she talked about ransacking her house for unused baby supplies to give to an expectant mother.
Over the past three years, Chisolm has helped raise more than $180,000 for fire departments throughout the state. She also works with the Make-a-Wish Foundation and the Albuquerque nonprofit Cuidando Los Niños. But she admits that the process of organizing a statewide grocery delivery initiative was a beast beyond her control. With the help of about 30 volunteers, a haphazard system of delivery addresses and phone numbers scrawled on Post-it Notes gave way to spreadsheets and timed drop-offs all across the state.
A stranger who heard about the operation on social media signed up to do twice-weekly drives to Aztec, where Chisolm’s employees awaited his cargo for their own delivery routes. Isolated people with few resources reached out for help on Facebook from cities including Chicago, Austin, Los Angeles, and San Antonio.
Team Chisolm found a way to meet every request, however unusual. “ ‘No’ doesn’t work for me,” Chisolm laughs. “That’s not a word I know.”
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Sergeant Toby Montoya, a paraplegic Army veteran who was living in isolation with his elderly mother, contacted Colón with a long list of medical supplies. Chisolm ran down the list, calling friends who worked in the medical field, and was able to tick off every item, including a hard-to-find shower chair with locking wheels.
“Not only did they deliver it, they delivered it assembled,” Montoya marvels, rasping breathlessly over the phone from his own bout with COVID-19, which landed him at Lovelace Medical Center, in Albuquerque, for a six-week stay. He gave Chisolm an Army challenge coin for her service to his family, signaling his gratitude and honor.
“She could be next to me in a firefight any day of the week,” Montoya says. “She is compassionate, she is strong, she’s highly intelligent. But mostly, she’s sincere.”