(CNN) - As Washington gears up for January's presidential inauguration, tickets to the evening's festivities are going for hundreds of dollars, and the city's remaining hotel rooms are edging into four-figure territory. Even basements and couches miles from the National Mall are going for a premium on Craigslist.
But one of the splashiest inauguration packages out there – including high-end hotel rooms and luxury suites, food and drink, a (heated) viewing spot right above the parade route, even gowns and tuxedos to wear to celebratory balls, and a beautician to help you get ready for it – is going for the most eye-popping price of all: absolutely nothing.
Virginia businessman Earl Stafford has spent $1 million to give hundreds of poverty-stricken and terminally ill Americans, along with wounded men and women in uniform, an inauguration experience that would ordinarily run each of them thousands of dollars or more.
The 60-year-old black businessman and son of a Baptist minister – who said his effort was rooted in his faith and good fortune - told the Washington Post he is ready to spend another $600,000 on meals and private balls in the Marriott hotel two blocks from the White House where he rented a bloc of inauguration week rooms just hours after the election.
He also said he's hoping to raise roughly the same amount from sponsors. For now, the money is coming from his family's non-profit foundation, the Stafford Foundation.
"We wanted to… bless those who otherwise wouldn't have an opportunity to be a part of the great celebration, the inauguration and the festivities," he told the paper. "Our objective is to bring in a cross-section of society - those who are distressed, those who are terminally ill, those who are socially and economically disadvantaged, those veterans who are wounded and served our country.
"…We've gotten away from those core values that made America great," he said. "We just need to get back to caring about one another."
Stafford, who contributed to and voted for Barack Obama but said he does not agree with all of the president-elect's positions – has been planning the effort since the primary season.
But he said he decided the inauguration would be "a transition in history, if you will… and everyone should be included."
For those that only see the negative in what Mr. Stafford has done, shame on you.
karmen, this country has not always been gracious certainly not for me and my ancestors Although it is getting better please be aware that racial barriers still exist. I think that was evident at the Palin rallies and not to mention the number of crosses that have been burned on lawns since the election. I will admit it is getting better little by little but we have not yet arrived.
To Anonomyous – You do have the voice of a cynic.
I'd like to think that the once in a lifetime opportunity he is showing can possibly change the lives of the people he's "treating". It is an experience that they'll never forget. It may change the whole path of their life and it could create one of the futures great leaders or an individual who always gives back.
Food for a year would be great but a once in a life time opportunity is amazing...
Wonderful! Bless you, Mr. Stafford, for understanding the true meaning of wealth and honoring your brother and sister citizens. Making this exciting moment in our history available to so many who would otherwise not be able to participate is truly an achievement to be proud of.
Change is coming – it's in the air – it's in people's hearts, like Mr. Stafford – Can you feel it?
This country is going to start getting back on it's feet and headed in the right direction once again!
This is wonderful. Tony what was the end of the abbreviation..after your prayer. I got: In the Name of Jesus Christ -– --–?I pray?Tony Howard December 4th, 2008 11:12 am ET
MAY THE ETERNAL AND ALMIGHTY GOD WHO UPHOLDS AND CONTINUES TO BLESS OUR GREAT NATION BRING TO PROSPERITY AND REALITY MORE AMERICANS OF LIKE MIND AND SPIRIT AS MR. EARL STAFFORD.
Yes, there will probably always be need. However, this is a great historical time. It will not ever be repeated. The slaves helped build the White House and now, a black family will llive there and a black man is head of the most powerful nation in the world because people of all races wanted change. Obviously it is not important to you but the reality is millons of Americans would like to be able to be there. This is a major historical moment in America. All Americans know that through education and hard work, they to can aspire to reach the highest office in the land. We, all Americans can dream.
Wow...someone doing something extremely gracious and some on this thread still complain. There's just no pleasing some people.
COOL BEANS MR. STAFFORD DUDE (saint nick)...
your tidings will be returned in multitudes...
I am elated for the recipients of these offerings and I hope they
see and understand the meaning of true and sincere sharing and love.
“Give, and it shall be given to you. For whatever measure you deal out to others, it will be dealt to you in return.”
Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it
PEACE AND LOVE TO ALL
A memory of a undeserved kindness lasts a lifetime. A seed of kindness will always bring forth a bountiful harvest of its fruit.
A blessed man is sharing his blessings.
Thank you for thinking about the poor and the not so fortune...
You are a great blessing to those who does not have the greatest contacts. Mr. Stafford you are an american hero your self...
Judy Simmons` December 4th, 2008 11:00 am ET
I just hope he does not take race into consideration when chosing who might be the lucky ones to attend, what will be one of the greatest historic events in my lifetime.
YOU HOPE HE DOES NOT DO WHAT YOU JUST DID.
How funny is it that people expect more from others then they expect from themselfs.
How sad that some readers felt compelled to be cynical about this, that they can't see that giving a day of dignity and celebration to the disadvantaged–even if it gives only temporary escape from the stress of their lives–is a beautiful, selfless gift.
Experiencing such kindness and generosity can be tranformational. Just knowing someone cares can change a life. I think Mr. Stafford's generosity and kindness is truly inspiring.
I think that what Mr. Stafford has done is a wonderful gesture towards a group of well-deserving individuals/families. We all recognize that these families have other needs, however, sometimes it is such a blessing to be removed from your everyday circumstance. A lot of us have never had to live with day to day poverty, hunger or disability, so we can only speculate. God has blessed me and many of my fellow posters so that we do not have to face these trials everyday (or in some posters' cases, they no longer have to face these circumstances). Let these people have their moment to shine, it will be a memory of a lifetime.
May God continue to bless and keep them all and Mr. Stafford, as well.
You are an averican hero your self...
Great job! thank you!!!! thank you!!!
how can anybody have something negative to say about this post just goes to show.
This is a nice story :0).
I wish i was given one of those tickets !
there will many people on the supreme court steps tomorrow supporting those challenging barak's "natural citizenship" i hope this happens and he's proven ineligible to be our president, he doesnt deservet his office, he's a liar.
What a wonderful thing for Mr Stafford to do it will be a day they will never forget, to anonymous who said the money would be better spent buying them food that's true... but for one day in there lives to live the dream gosh we should not take that away from them. Yes there are alot of family's hurting so do what we are doing find a local charity and go help a family by buying them food and clothing this Christmas time with stores selling everything for more than half off we can all do our bit.
Merry Christmas to you all.
It wouldn't matter one bit, even if I had the wealth of Bill Gates, I would not waste my money on that party nor will I waste my time watching it on TV or reading about it in the newspaper. Life is to short for me to wasre it on useless hype. "Change" anyone?
This is just another example of what a human being should be and do.
It shows that human beings as God.
Praise God! Glad to know there are still nice thoughtful people in this country. Who would not want to attend this event. What a Blessing!
Generosity in all ways spreads exponentially, uplifting one another, which is our purpose for being here. Mr. Stafford understands and lives it.
@ Anonomyous Thats a nice gesture but always the cynic…all that money could have been spent on something more longlasting than 1 day of luxury like food for a month
You could have spent 2 seconds googling to find out that the Stafford Foundation, is a private foundation committed to helping underserved, marginalized and distressed individuals. In other words, healready spends money on "more lasting" things