Miscommunication over Steamboat Community Center’s kitchen policies didn’t thwart holiday dinner | SteamboatToday.com

Miscommunication over Steamboat Community Center’s kitchen policies didn’t thwart holiday dinner

— The logistics involved in serving a free Christmas dinner to more than 400 people at the Steamboat Springs Community Center on Thursday were more challenging than usual, due to an apparent miscommunication that left volunteers from the Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors scrambling to come up with some of the kitchen equipment and, in particular, the refrigeration they needed to serve the meal.

After abandoning a plan to ask food donors to drop their offerings off in picnic coolers near the Community Center loading area, the Board of Realtors turned to the loaner moving van that Colorado Group Realty provides to its clients. The different components of the Christmas dinner were stored inside the cold cargo area of the truck until it was time to heat and serve them.

The event has been taking place for a quarter-century, and everyone is welcome to join in the holiday meal and share one another’s company. Realtor Lorraine Morrison, who organized the event, said she didn't find out until this week that her volunteers would not have the use of one of the Routt County Council on Aging's two large walk-in coolers in which to store the cooked turkeys and mashed potatoes dropped off by volunteer cooks.

"I didn't know until just in the past week that (the Council on Aging) wouldn't let us use one of their walk-ins," Morrison said. "It's never happened in the past that we haven't had use of them."

However, Council on Aging Executive Director Jackie Brown said this week that after her board agreed to a new policy against sharing its walk-ins with community groups, a formal letter was sent out to the Board of Realtors and Routt County United Way, notifying them of the change.

"The board sent letters to both (the Board of Realtors and United Way) back in February (2014) notifying them, so they had plenty of time if they wanted to look for a different venue," Brown told Steamboat Today this week. "They were notified far, far in advance of the holiday."

Recommended Stories For You

Somehow, the message didn't get through.

Brown said after she became executive director of the Council on Aging on Oct. 24, 2013, she heard from her kitchen employees that there were food health-related issues with their food becoming co-mingled in the coolers with food purchased by the community groups. Brown determined that her agency did not have a clear policy on usage of the coolers by outside groups and went to her board seeking to simplify the matter by withholding their use.

She said she thought she owed it to her kitchen staff to ensure that the food and equipment they needed to feed their clients was there when they returned to the kitchen.

"The decision was not personal," Brown said. "The decision was the best decision for the Council on Aging as a nonprofit organization. We have a responsibility to the seniors that we serve. The cooler was a no-brainer because of the health code concerns."

The confusion this holiday season has its roots in the fact that the Community Center, including the kitchen, is a city of Steamboat Springs facility, but the Routt County Council on Aging has exclusive use of the kitchen while using it to serve four noon meals at a suggested donation of $3 every week to senior citizens here. The agency also serves two days per week in Hayden and three in South Routt.

The city owns the stove and ovens, dishwasher and a household-sized refrigerator at the Community Center. But the Council on Aging also has used grant money to purchase to large walk-in coolers, prep tables and cooking utensils.

City of Steamboat Springs Director of General Services Anne Small confirmed that the Council on Aging bases its senior meals program in the Community Center under a memorandum of understanding entered into after the city allowed the old community center to be demolished to make way for the expansion of the Bud Werner Memorial Library. The MOU gives the Council on Aging exclusive use of the kitchen and east side of the Community Center while serving meals to seniors.

"It's the city's purview to allow the use of the kitchen, and we determine what we will charge you or not," Small said. "The basic equipment is the city's — the utensils, dishes, the food all of that stuff — it has always been (the Council on Aging's) purview to decide if they want to let a group use it or not. It's totally up to them."

The Board of Realtors isn't the only community group caught by surprise by the change in policy on the part of the Council on Aging.

While Morrison said the Board of Realtors knew to build up its own supply of serving utensils, it was unaware that the cooler was off limits. United Way Executive Director Kate Nowak said she knew the cooler was out of play but was taken by surprise when the kitchen utensils weren't available when her agency went to serve a free Thanksgiving dinner.

"I knew that we couldn't use the cooler, but I didn't know there was no access to utensils or spoons or anything until I walked in on Thanksgiving Day," she said. "The tables in there to carve the turkey and all of that was gone. My program assistant went out to buy some spoons and luckily some volunteers walked in and asked if there was anything they could do. They said they could get cooking pots from Holy Name" Catholic Church.

Nowak's agency funded the Council on Aging to the tune of $12,190 in 2014, and she said the United Way will continue to support the seniors' group.

"It's a great program that we need in the community," Nowak said. "They are the only organization focused on seniors in our valley, and Jackie is trying to expand the transportation service to include medical appointments."

Small said the city of Steamboat has a longstanding and very amicable relationship with the Council on Aging. And the Board of Realtors sent a specific invitation to the clients of the Council on Aging to join in the Christmas dinner.

Morrison said she understands that the Council on Aging has a right to reserve its equipment for its own use. However, she has a concern with an under-equipped kitchen in a city facility. She pointed out that carving turkeys on tables adjacent to sinks is not an approved practice.

"My point is that we're trying to figure out how to store (and prepare) food in there without committing health code violations," Morrison said. "The community paid for the kitchen. If there's no refrigeration space or work table space, that kitchen is rendered inoperable. We need some money put into that kitchen. There's a bit of an attitude that we can leave food siting out from 9 a.m. until the last of the food is served at 6 p.m. I'm extremely uncomfortable with that. Somehow we need to figure that problem out."

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1