United Way’s Holiday Exchange Market serves 320 families | SteamboatToday.com

United Way’s Holiday Exchange Market serves 320 families

Teresa Ristow

Organizers with Routt County United Way's new Holiday Exchange Market, which replaced the Holiday Wishes program, said participants enjoyed the new shopping format. About 320 families were served between Friday and Sunday.

— A new Holiday Exchange Market organized by Routt County United Way allowed more than 300 local families to shop for Christmas gifts during the weekend.

The marketplace format replaced a previous United Way Holiday Wishes program that had community members "adopting" families and purchasing more specific presents.

The majority of families were served when the marketplace at Colorado Mountain College opened Friday, and all were served by Sunday, leading the United Way to call off Monday's planned marketplace hours.

About two-thirds of the families shopped on the market’s first day, according to Kate Nowak, executive director of Routt County United Way.

"I think it went really well," Nowak said. "It was highly successful."

Nowak said the 320 families served this weekend was a smaller number than in years past, something she attributed to the improving economy.

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No families that inquired about shopping at the marketplace were turned away, she said.

LIFT-UP of Routt County Executive Director Laura Schmidt said she thought the event went well for its first year.

“It’s always a learning experience when you do something for the first time,” she said. “I think everyone who was working definitely made some notes of ways to make it even better for next year.”

Schmidt said clients seemed to enjoy themselves while shopping, but she is curious to hear more feedback about what participants thought of the event’s new format.

Instead of requesting specific gifts and receiving those from donors, this year, families were allowed to shop at the marketplace, which included outdoor clothing, toys and $25 grocery gift cards.

Nowak said there were some coats and toys left over at the end of the weekend, but the marketplace could have used more men's gloves and boots.

Men who shopped at the marketplace after those items had run out were given $25 gift certificates to LIFT-UP’s thrift store, where jackets cost only about $12, Nowak said.

Nowak said she thought the new format, which allows the freedom of choice for families to pick the items they like, was well received.

"It's so much fun to see the clients and their happy faces," Nowak said.

Clients of Integrated Community, an organization that assists community members who don't speak English, liked the new shopping format, according to Executive Director Sheila Henderson.

"Our clients seemed to really like it," Henderson said. "The majority of people said they preferred the new format."

Many volunteered to help during the event, including some high school students who served as interpreters for non-English speakers or helped wrap gifts after families selected them.

"It was really fun to have them participate," she said. "I think it went really well."

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email tristow@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow