(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."
Beautiful. Just beautiful. Mr. Stafford, you are a very good man, indeed.
Wow. Very inspirational. If I end up seeing negative comments on this post then I have lost all faith in the American person, for this is true generosity. How cannot this man be regarded with utmost respect and dignity as he sets a moral example that should be studied by all Americans, me being the first one.
who is Mr.Stafford?
Well done Mr. Stafford! You are a wonderful person!
Isn't it nice to hear of someone thinking of others instead of themselves.
All we have heard about recently is Wall Street folks, insurance giants and automakers looking out for #1....themselves.
I hope each and every person Mr. Stafford has picked to go has the best time of their lives. It is not every day one gets to be so close to witness such a historic event.
What a wonderful man Mr. Stafford is!
Is Mr.Stafford a vice President?
God Bless your efforts Mr. Stafford. That is certainly a worthy and purposeful gesture. I will be watching everything from home, but those who have been given this amazing gift. I don't believe this has ever happen before for an inauguration! The Obama's are definitely bringing out the best of most of world!! God Bless America!!!
This should be a sign to us all that we need to put aside the partisanship and work together as Americans to help and support each other.
This is a great man who would do something like this.
God bless you Mr Stafford, you are an example for all the world to see. Hopefully Mr Stafford's generosity and thoughtfulness will spread and the future will truely be filled with change.
This was a wonderful thing to do and it's great to know that there is someone who understands the American Way! May God Bless You!
Well done, Mr. Stafford. Why aren't there more people out there like you?
SEE folks, spreading the wealth is not a bad/socialist thing, if's a GOD thing.
Matthew 19:21 (New King James Version)
21 Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
Thank you for sharing your wealth Mr. Stafford, thank you. God bless you.....
God bless you, you are what makes America the greatest nation on earth. Thank you for you service.
What uplifting news exactly when we need it!
Now ...this is what life is supposed to be about. Bless him.
What a wonderful gesture....that's the true spirit of Christmas.
Wow, how can I get on his list :0)
This is the type business person I want to support. Please tell us the name of the business. As a business owner I seek out the business's that take care of their employee's first and support those less fortunate when I am determining who gets my business.
This really goes to the core of the President Elect Obama's belief. We are all in this together and need to work together to make this a better world.
I try to make every purchase count by supporting those that want to make this world a better place.
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.
Look more into the actions of these men and see these are the true reflections of leadership, kindness & humanity.
Examples we need now in America And in the World
What a wonderful,unselfish and loving act from a real gentleman.What a difference between this kind of man and the men that flew into Washington on their corporate jets asking to be bailed out! Mr. Stafford is an example of what a truly decent human being should be.
The Inaugeration is little taters, I'm waiting for the reaffirmation of his campaign promises signaling our recovery. We must face facts that this is not a normal inaugeration nor normal times. They'll be time enough for partying after the job is done.
I hate that the article had to mention he was a "black" businessman...
why couldn't he just be a businessman? is it supposed to mean more since he's black?
this kind of reporting irkes me cause if he were white I dont think it would have said, "a white businessman".
anyway.. good deed, Mr. Stafford. very nicely done!