Steamboat Springs resident Cory Ecklund takes a bite of ham Thursday during the Community Christmas Dinner, sponsored by the Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors, at the Community Center.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Steamboat Springs resident Cory Ecklund takes a bite of ham Thursday during the Community Christmas Dinner, sponsored by the Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors, at the Community Center.

Annual Community Christmas Dinner draws more than 500 people

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Christ for Life Skate Church founder Buck Chavarria, who was volunteering at the Community Christmas Dinner on Thursday, visits with the Hathaway and Navarro Rodriguez families.

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Paul Potyen accompanies singer Pam Pierce and saxophone player Kenyon Brenner, who were performing Christmas songs at the Community Christmas Dinner.

— Take a whole mess of Steamboat Springs locals. Add seasonal workers, volunteers, Realtors and musicians. Sprinkle visitors liberally throughout. Pack into Community Center, and let sit for four hours.

The recipe came out just right at this year's Community Christmas Dinner, which ran from 2 to 6 p.m. Thursday. A record of 550 people sat down to the meal, sponsored by the Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors, dinner Chairwoman Colleen de Jong said.

"It's the biggest number of people we've ever had," de Jong said. This was the event's 19th year.

About 350 people attended last year's meal, she said, which was held at Holy Name Catholic Church, because the old Community Center was gone. More than 400 people typically attend, said de Jong, who is in her third and final year as chairwoman.

She attributed the high turnout to three factors.

"I think it's a combination of the economy, getting the word out more than we ever have before and also the new center," she said.

Volunteers served ham, turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans and more to participants. The Board of Realtors ran out of a few items, de Jong said. They didn't have any leftovers this year.

Musicians performed, and people sat around tables, chattering and wishing each other well on the holiday.

Lucio Martin Navarro Ramirez attended with his wife and two sons. Ramirez and his family are visiting Steamboat from Monclova, Coahuila.

"We arrived here for vacation, a holiday, because we have very, very good friends that live here," he said.

The family is spending its two weeks checking out the town and practicing English, he said. They enjoyed the traditional dinner.

"It had a very, very nice flavor, because the food from here is a different flavor for us," Ramirez said. "It had a great, great taste."

Paul Hand, a musician who runs Mountain Home Realty, didn't have time to finish his plate before it got cold. Hand organized the musical acts of the day and bustled around, helping musicians get set and directing people who needed a place to sit.

He has volunteered at the dinner for five or six years.

"It's a good thing for anybody who wants to have a nice dinner to come and have it," Hand said.

A variety of people show up, he noted.

"There are multimillionaires eating in there," Hand said with a laugh.

The Yampa Valley Boys, a cowboy band, also noticed the melting pot.

"This one's a community dinner completely," John Fisher said. "It's not a Denver dinner for homeless people. This is to get all the community together."

The band's other half, Steve Jones, agreed.

"We look forward to this every year," he said.

Volunteers included the Board of Realtors, as well as community members, de Jong said. Restaurants and stores also donated items, and the Board of Realtors cooked and brought in food.

Eight youths from Christ for Life Skate Church helped serve and direct people. They are required to do community service, said Tara Chavarria, who founded and leads the church with her husband, Buck.

"I'm just really proud of them," she said. "They're doing a great job."

The dinner shows the youths what the community is all about, Tara Chavarria said.

"It's a blessing to have something like this, to be together, not be alone at Christmas," she said.

The Perez family, of Pueblo, also was glad to have a place to go. Louie Perez works for Twentymile Coal Co., and his wife, Jenelle, and two daughters are camping near Steamboat for the holiday.

Oh, and don't worry - Santa Claus found them. Adriana, 13, got a new cell phone, and Mariah, 7, got an MP3 player so she can rock out to Hannah Montana.

Jenelle Perez described the dinner as relaxing, and Louie said he was impressed by the friendliness of the people.

"I wish they would have this in our town," he said with a smile.

- To reach Blythe Terrell, call 871-4234

or e-mail bterrell@steamboatpilot.com

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