No resident left behind

Community members work to make Thanksgiving a special holiday for everyone in town

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If you go

What: Routt County United Way Community Thanksgiving Dinner

When: 2 to 5 p.m. Thursday

Where: Steamboat Springs Community Center

Cost: Free

Call: Routt County United Way at 879-5605 or Wells Fargo Bank at 879-0550

— For many, Thanksgiving Day is a time to gather with family and friends, watch football in the comfort of a warm, safe home and eat until it hurts.

But there are many people living in the Yampa Valley whose Thanksgivings aren't nearly as comfortable. There are those loving in hotel rooms without kitchens, homeless teenagers who crash on friends' couches and many more who simply struggle on a daily basis to make ends meet.

On Thursday, and during the days preceding the holiday, numerous community members and organizations will work to make the holidays a little brighter for those who are less fortunate.

And they need your help.

An open door

Buck and Tara Chavarria might want to replace their front door with a revolving door - one that never quite closes and welcomes everyone.

The Chavarrias, who started the Christ for Life SK8 Church, work selflessly for many county youths. They say their goal isn't to preach or lecture but to accept all children and teens and provide them a positive outlet for a shared passion: skateboarding.

On Thursday, the Chavarrias, who are accustomed to hosting meals at their home for dozens of youths, will prepare a traditional Thanksgiving meal for children and their families as well as others who might not have anywhere else to go.

"There's so much poverty and homelessness and substance abuse in Steamboat Springs. People don't really see it, but it's here," Tara Chavarria said.

The Chavarrias expect to welcome a family living in a hotel, several SK8 Church members and their families, and a teen who has been "couch surfing" for eight months.

"The holidays are often a time people abuse substances more or are destructive in some way, and we're just hoping that by offering everyone a place to go that maybe it will distract them," Tara Chavarria said.

This is the second year she and her husband have hosted a "mixed holiday."

"It's just in our hearts," she said. "We want to spend (Thursday) with anyone who needs it."

In addition to sharing their home, the Chavarrias plan to take a group of SK8 Church members to the Community Thanksgiving Dinner at the Steamboat Springs Community Center, where they will volunteer and serve food to others. The Chavarrias regularly take youths to the Denver Rescue Mission to serve food and volunteer.

"We're taking them to teach them to give back. That's really what it's all about," she said.

Coming together

The Community Thanks-

giving Dinner, which is sponsored by Routt County United Way and Wells Fargo Bank, has been a community staple for years. It brings together segments of the community that otherwise wouldn't have any place to celebrate Thanksgiving Day.

"This is an opportunity for people who might not have family, or who are less fortunate, to come and share the holidays with others," said Mark Andersen, executive director of Routt County United Way.

"We see senior citizens, entire families, college kids, people who have just moved here, tourists ... everyone. We don't want anyone to be alone."

Andersen said he's always amazed at how generous the local community is - nearly the entire dinner is provided by community residents. Although there are plenty of volunteers who have signed up to help serve the meal, food donations are desperately needed, Anderson said.

"We need donations of prepared, ready-to-eat foods," he said.

Food donations can be dropped off beginning at 11 a.m. Thursday at the Community Center, or from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday.

"The reason why the community dinner is so successful is because people step up to the plate and take the time to donate food or cook a turkey for someone else," he said.

Recognizing that not everyone has the opportunity to be with friends or family Thursday is critical, Andersen said.

"This is a time when I think people really take stock in what they're thankful for. It's a time when people are very appreciative of what this community can provide," he said.

Just like home

Although some of the Doak Walker Care Center's residents will attend the Community Thanksgiving Dinner, many of the seniors will enjoy a holiday with their care center families.

Christine McKelvie, spokeswoman for the Yampa Valley Medical Center, said volunteers and staff members have been busy decorating the center for its residents and will have a special Thanksgiving meal Thursday.

"It's really similar to having dinner at home with their families and loved ones," she said. "It's not unlike what you'd find elsewhere in town."

Some residents will spend the next few days preparing dozens of apple and pumpkin pies to add the finishing touch to the meal.

"It takes quite a lot to feed our crowd," McKelvie said.

McKelvie said the hospital's staff and volunteers try to make sure residents who might not have family or are grieving the loss of a loved one have a special time during the holidays.

The hospital does not need volunteers for Thursday, but those interested in spending time with Doak Walker residents are encouraged to call the activities department at 870-1188. A six-month commitment is appreciated, McKelvie added.

"We love having residents of the community share their holiday spirit with us," she said.

Most volunteers either help with crafts, entertainment or other projects.

Diane Moore, executive director of Advocates Against Battering and Abuse, said she tries to make sure women or children staying at the shelter have an opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving just like everyone else.

"We try to accompany whatever would make them feel best. Obviously, they're away from friends and family, so we try to help them put the pieces together to have a nice holiday," she said.

Victims of abuse or battering often have difficulty getting through the holidays because they are reminded of loss and can be extremely lonely, she said.

"In my experience, the holidays can be a very difficult time because we all want that perfect holiday. It can be a very stressful time," Moore said.

Moore said Advocates does not need food donations for Thanksgiving but it does accept other donations for holiday gifts such as toys for children or furniture and other household items for women making new homes. Call 879-2034 to make a donation.

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