Our View: United Way holiday tradition needs you more than ever | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: United Way holiday tradition needs you more than ever

One of the most rewarding traditions of the December holidays in Routt County long has been the United Way's heartwarming program to match families who cannot afford much of a Christmas with generous people who get in touch with their own holiday spirit by meeting their needs. Often that involves a specific gift, and sometimes gift cards are most appropriate.

So, it's concerning that with the extended deadline to drop off gifts looming on Wednesday, gifting has dropped off this season. We are urging companies and organizations in Routt County as well as individuals, to join the Steamboat Pilot & Today family in organizing a group effort.

For many years, the United Way program was known as Holiday Wishes, but it was restructured and rebranded this year as the Holiday Exchange Market in a sincere effort to raise the dignity of recipients, while refocusing the gifting process to ensure that meeting genuine needs is a high priority.

Also this year, recipient families are being asked to choose one member to volunteer at the exchange. Or, if they are too busy working, to contribute $10 to the exchange.

The marketplace will offer toys, clothing and gift cards for groceries exclusively, and supporters no longer will be able to adopt a real, specific family, but they still can set out to purchase a family's worth of gifts, United Way Executive Director Kate Nowak told Steamboat Today. Families in need will visit the marketplace and select items from among those donated that best meet the needs of their families. This is in contrast to past years when donors purchased items for specific families. 

What concerns us at this writing is that as of Friday, the response from donors this year is falling far short of meeting the needs (and wishes of children) of registered families. As of midday Friday, 143 of 800 $25 grocery gift cards had been provided. There was a similar shortage of people willing to supply coats for adults, but LIFT-UP of Routt County Executive Director Laura Schmidt said her organization is prepared to meet some of the need for adults and children's coats.

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"We saved coats from our winter coat drive this year to go to (the exchange)," Schmidt said. "I don't know if they'll be the right sizes, but we have 361 coats waiting at the dry cleaners."

However, there are plenty of shortages for hats, gloves and snow boots. On Friday afternoon, there were 41 requests for girls boots and there were only 12 commitments to help those girls get to school with warm, dry feet.

Having grown up in poverty herself, Schmidt understands that often the way in which a gift or donation is given makes a difference in preserving the dignity of the receiver.

"These are some of the hardest working people in our community, sometimes working two or three jobs. It really is about dignity," Schmidt said. "My family, growing up, didn't have money, but my mother would not have participated as the program was before. The way it is now, she might have felt like she contributed so that she could get something back. A lot of people living in poverty don't want to take things."

The process for this year's gift exchange requests that people making gifts log on to http://www.routtcountyunitedway.org to reach an online donation hosting site. There they review what items are needed and commit to filling one or more of those needs. From the United Way homepage, look for the blue Holiday Exchange Market bar.

Next, they shop for the specific items (for example boys jeans of a specific size) then deliver them to the United Way office on the upper floor of Bank of the San Juans at 270 Anglers Drive (just east of McDonald's), or take advantage of one of the 14 drop-box locations throughout Steamboat (again, go to http://www.routtcounty

unitedway.org, look for the  blue Holiday Exchange Market bar and click on the link: "Find a donation collection box.")

In order to expedite giving at the newspaper, we plan to collect gifts from staff members at our office and make one delivery trip to the United Way office. We urge you to consider doing the same in the spirit of Routt County taking care of its own. And doing so in a way that recognizes the importance of respecting peoples' dignity regardless of their economic circumstances.

At issue

Routt County taking care of its own, in a way that respects peoples’ dignity regardless of their economic circumstances.

Our view

Don’t let restructured Holiday Market dissuade you — this is about helping families in need.