Jane Romberg rings the bell for The Salvation Army outside City Market on Friday.

Photo by Tom Ross

Jane Romberg rings the bell for The Salvation Army outside City Market on Friday.

Tom Ross: Fulfilling a holiday wish

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— This is the time of the year when my wise old father is fond of pronouncing, “Christmas is for kids!”

Certainly, in the secular sense, Professor Ross is correct. But there is a little bit of child in all of us, and I went out in search of mine during a hectic lunch hour Friday. Thanks to Routt County United Way’s Holiday Wishes program, I found my inner boy — the same one who was thrilled in 1958 to find a used two-wheel bicycle, freshly painted red, next to the tree one Christmas morning.

Holiday Wishes is a program the United Way undertakes in cooperation with a large number of human service agencies in the community, including schools.

Routt County United Way Executive Director Kelly Stan­­ford said the idea is to meet the needs of families who can’t afford much during the holidays. And it doesn’t stop at practical items such as clothing. Individuals are invited to ask for a small personal gift on the form.

“Families in need, in my mind, have the right to wish for something frivolous at the holidays,” Stanford said. “There’s the pain of a parent who is not able to provide that for a child. We see that a lot.”

United Way sends Holiday Wishes forms to participating agencies in October for distribution to their clients. When the forms come back to the agency or organization, a contact person there signs off on them, formally acknowledging that the need is real. It’s a way for the agencies that know firsthand the needs of specific families to vet the request forms.

United Way, in turn, accepts requests from individuals, families and organizations describing their interest in helping a family and makes matches.

If you’d like to help spread some holiday cheer, call United Way at 970-879-5605, visit www.routtcountyunitedway.org or www.rexsholidaywishes.com, or e-mail Kelly@routtcountyunitedway.org. Gifts are due to be collected by Friday.

The Holiday Wishes program began eight years ago when resident Grant Fenton and some friends decided to “adopt” a local family for the holidays. An annual celebration of the gift drive is from 4 to 8 p.m. Sunday at Rex’s American Grill & Bar. Anyone who brings a wrapped gift to donate to the Holiday Wishes effort can enjoy complimentary food and drinks at the family-friendly event. There will be cookie decorating for children, a visit from Santa Claus and live music. Visit www.rexsholidaywishes.com for a list of gifts that still need to be purchased.

Another option is to donate toys at Toys for Tots at collection boxes across the city, including at grocery stores. The toy drive collects new, unwrapped toys and gifts for children ages 18 and younger. Toys will be collected through Dec. 18 and distributed at the Bud Werner Memorial Library from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Dec. 19 to 23.

Those who need gifts or know someone who does must sign up with United Way. Call Teri Wall at 970-879-6184 or 970-640-7500 to volunteer for a four-hour distribution shift or to work on set up Dec. 18.

Several years ago, the people who purchased the gifts for families in the Holiday Wishes program delivered them personally. But that has changed.

Today, the contact person at the human services organization delivers the gifts to provide an extra layer of privacy, and the dignity that goes with it, for the recipient families.

All families in need deserve to keep their pride intact. Routt County families in need this year often were self-sustaining just a year or two ago, Stanford said.

So that’s how I found myself at the store Friday shopping for a couple of practical sweatshirts and a not-so-practical toy for a little boy.

He wants a gaudy wrestling belt for Christmas. The little boy inside me doesn’t really understand the request, but that’s not important.

When you are a child, that certain gift under the decorated tree means everything in the world.

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