Steamboat Springs During a year in which the need for Routt County United Way’s Holiday Wishes program increased by 86 families, so too did the community’s response.
Routt County United Way Executive Director Kelly Stanford said Holiday Wishes, which matches volunteer donors with families who wouldn’t otherwise receive gifts during the holiday season, served 316 families — including 541 children — this year. That’s up from the 230 families served last year.
“Because of the generosity of the community, every family that came to us is receiving help,” she said. “We’re really excited about that.”
Stanford said families that wanted to be recipients signed up for the Holiday Wishes program in November through one of several local health and human service agencies they work with on a regular basis.
Each member of a family can be signed up for a necessity item, such as winter clothing, and a small gift or toy. Stanford said the United Way recommends that donors spend $50 per family member, though they sometimes go above that threshold.
After families sign up, Stanford said the United Way matches them with donors in late November and early December. She said donors then return the gifts to the local health and human service organization, which distributes them to the families.
This year, 92 donor groups — including a mix of individuals and businesses — contributed, Stanford said. She said one of those, the annual United Way Holiday Wishes Party at Rex’s American Grill & Bar, provided gifts for 57 families.
Owner Rex Brice said the party, which provides free food and drink to anyone who comes with a wrapped gift for Holiday Wishes, started as a gathering of friends who decided to adopt a family instead of giving one another gifts.
“As it’s gotten bigger, the holiday party is in part a thank you to all the people who participate,” he said. “It means that even in these tough times, we have people in this community willing to look beyond their own challenges and help out people in more need than themselves.”
To illustrate just how much the need has increased, Routt County Department of Human Services Director Vickie Clark said most of her agency’s programs have doubled in size.
“Every public assistance program except for the Child Care Assistance Program has increased since I arrived in May 2008,” she said. “The good news is we’re getting people the benefits they’re eligible for. The bad news is there are more people eligible for them.”
Clark said the Child Care Assistance Program hasn’t grown because the county instituted a wait list because there hasn’t been enough funding to support all eligible families.
Stanford said everyone who signed up to receive gifts should get them before Christmas. She thanked the members of the community who participated in Holiday Wishes.
“This time of year we are truly thankful for their generosity during the holidays, but the needs of these families continue year-round,” Stanford said. “The human service organizations that provide services create a safety net for the rest of the year. Any support that people can give to these organizations through United Way donations or other support truly keeps them afloat and helps them with their struggles the other 364 days of the year.”