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Giving that lasts all year long

United Way highlights different ways to help

Kate Nowak, executive director Routt County United Way, stands near gifts for the Holiday Gift Exchange in Steamboat Springs in 2020. The United Way’s Holiday 365 program was launched last year as a way to encourage people to give “gifts that last all year long.“
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It’s the season of giving, and Routt County residents are taking it in stride.

Throughout November and December, food and toy drives popped up across the county — at schools, Bud Werner Memorial Library, churches and local businesses such as Steamboat Sotheby’s International Realty, which hosted its annual Mickey’s Fund toy drive serving families at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

Local residents, too, have created their own ways to give and help others in need.



Ash Kempton founded Routt County Reindeer in 2020 as a way to help children across Routt County by giving them a package that includes a pair of mittens or socks, a book and a toy. In its second year, she said, the donations have poured in, and they’ve doubled the program in size.

With the boost, Routt County Reindeer was able to provide a package to every child at the Boys and Girls Club, preschoolers at Steamboat Springs, Soroco and Hayden schools, as well as children at Young Tracks Preschool.



“We provided gifts to 240 plus students,” Kempton said. “Over 500 items were purchased off our Amazon link, and our efforts doubled this year, allowing us to reach even more children.”

While programs such as Routt County Reindeer have wrapped up the donation period as people settle in for the holidays, there are still ways to give.

Routt County United Way’s Holiday 365 program was another program that launched last year, born from the pandemic.

The program focuses on “gifts that last all year” and highlights three ways to give, including a holiday food card drive that provided families with gift cards to local grocery stores for a week’s worth of groceries; monetary giving to programs that make an impact year round; or by giving to the community through volunteerism and advocacy.

“What we found is that our local people in need like to choose their own gifts for their families,” said Kate Nowak, executive director of Routt County United Way. “They like to shop, wrap and give their gifts. So, we implemented the food card drive to free up some food money for other uses, as determined by the family or individual. Some people spend the saved food money on bills or on gifts for their loved ones.”

The food card drive wrapped up earlier in December, but donations are always accepted to keep programming going year-round, said Nowak.

“Many children and families want to participate in programming year-round but cannot afford the program costs,” she said. “Routt County United Way collects funding from the community to use for scholarships and program funding to allow all who desire to participate in a program a place.”

Examples of programs that the organization supports throughout the year are positive youth development and youth resiliency programs, youth corp and mentoring programs, preschool scholarships, literacy tutoring and mental health support.

Sixty dollars can provide a family of four with a food bank box for one month, $125 can provide one scholarship for safe after-school care, and $500 can support mentoring for one youth throughout the year.

The goal is to give during the holidays but to make an impact all year long.

“People who give at this time of year are making an impact in a family’s life not only during the holidays but all year long,” said Nowak. “It is gratifying to know the dollars are well-placed, well-used and making an impression in people’s lives.”

To give to Routt County United Way, visit RouttCountyUnitedWay.org/holiday.


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