Audre Torgerson accepts a donation in front of Walmart on Sunday afternoon as a part of Routt County United Way’s annual Holiday Wishes program, which uses gift donations to help local families in need fill their holiday wish lists.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Audre Torgerson accepts a donation in front of Walmart on Sunday afternoon as a part of Routt County United Way’s annual Holiday Wishes program, which uses gift donations to help local families in need fill their holiday wish lists.

Steamboat groups begin efforts to support Holiday Wishes program

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To help

Learn more about Routt County United Way’s Holiday Wishes program by calling 970-879-5605.

To participate through the growing community group that includes Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue, the Young Professionals Network, Steamboat Springs Restaurant Association and more, visit href="http://www.... ">www.rexsholidaywishes.com for a gift registry and information, or contact Grant Fenton at 970-846-1560 or grant@steamboatin.... Cash donations, gift cards and Chamber Bucks also accepted.

The community group will accept gift donations in front of Walmart from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday and Dec. 12.

— A growing community group kicked off its eighth year of holiday gift donations during the weekend by collecting scores of toys, clothes and other items for those less fortunate.

Members of Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue, the Ste­­amboat Springs Chamber Res­­ort Association, the Chamber’s Young Professionals Network and other local groups renewed their annual, collective participation in Routt County United Way’s annual Holiday Wishes program with the weekend gift drive. On Sunday afternoon, several brightly decorated bags were filled to overflowing with gifts outside Walmart, where firemen in Santa Claus hats served coffee, hot chocolate and cookies to donors and passers-by.

“Hooded sweatshirts and socks are the most asked for items,” said Marion Ayer, of the Chamber and YPN.

Then she glanced down at bags filled primarily with toys and games.

“I think people really enjoy giving the toys and the fun stuff.”

Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue Lt. Chuck Cerasoli also noted the disparity Sunday and said it’s important for donors to remember parents as well as children.

But everyone agreed that it’ll take all kinds of donations to meet the local United Way’s demand for this year’s Holiday Wishes program. The United Way receives information about needy families from local human services organizations, then compiles gifts through volunteer community groups.

“In total, we helped about 220, 230 families last year,” Routt County United Way Executive Director Kelly Stanford said.

Stanford said request forms for families are due this week from human services organizations, so a final count wasn’t yet available of families to benefit from the program this year.

But the number likely could surpass last year’s total.

“This year, there should be a greater need than ever in the community,” Grant Fenton said.

Fenton is a founder of the community group that collected gifts outside Walmart on Sunday. He said the group began about eight years ago when he and some friends decided to “adopt” a family for holiday gifts. Others joined the group throughout the years — including Fire Rescue last year and the YPN this year — and the gift collection drive culminates in an annual party hosted by local restaurateur Rex Brice, vice president of the Steamboat Springs chapter of the Colorado Restaurant Association. That chapter also is part of the community group.

Every gift collected makes its way to the annual party, which this year is from 4 to 8 p.m. Dec. 12 at Rex’s American Grill & Bar.

Fenton said last year, about 500 presents, all wrapped and ready for local families, were on display at the event.

“It’s amazing,” Fenton said. “It’s really pretty powerful, being at that party and seeing what can happen when the community comes together like that.”

Stanford noted that anyone can participate in the Holiday Wishes program. Groups to adopt families commonly form at schools, among co-workers or as a family effort, she said.

“It’s a great way to feel like you’re giving back to the community, like you’re helping those who may be struggling through rough times,” Stanford said. “We encourage those in the community who are interested to give us a call.”

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