Holiday Exchange Market will replace United Way’s Holiday Wishes program |

Holiday Exchange Market will replace United Way’s Holiday Wishes program

Ongoing complaints about the format of Routt County United Way’s annual Holiday Wishes giving program has led organizers to revamp the event as a shopping marketplace.

Gifts will be collected for the new Holiday Exchange Market through Dec. 4, and the new event hopefully will offer participants more dignity and participating organizations less hassle, while still offering the public a chance to give to those in need, United Way Executive Director Kate Nowak said.

Nowak said the Holiday Wishes program had been tweaked throughout the years, and while she heard last year’s collaboration was one of the best, she still received numerous complaints from givers and recipients.

“There were lots of complaints about the process,” Nowak said.

Previously, participating human services agencies identified families in need, who requested types of holiday gifts they were most interested in — such as clothing, food and toys — and then sponsors were solicited to “adopt” families and purchase their selected gifts anonymously, working through the various agencies to distribute presents.

Nowak said she heard from agencies that they didn’t have as much time as needed to dedicate to the program each year, and from recipients who were discouraged by not having anyone to thank for the items they received.

After reading the book “Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help and How to Reverse It” by Robert D. Lupton, Nowak was inspired to hold a book club meeting and encourage other local agencies to also read the book.

She said the themes discussed in the book could apply locally, and agency representatives saw the Holiday Wishes program as a good place to enact change.

“There was an agreement in the room that we needed to change,” Nowak said. “We all agreed that a revamp of the Holiday Wishes program would be in order.”

Nowak said that while all of the participating agencies are on board with the Holiday Exchange Market, there has been some resistance to the new format.

“There is a little pushback from those that like the old program, and change is hard,” Nowak said.

The marketplace will exclusively offer toys, clothing and gift cards for groceries, and supporters will no longer be able to adopt a real, specific family, but they still can set out to purchase a family’s worth of gifts, Nowak said.

Food cards and the market format can offer participants the feeling of more dignity than having their items selected for them, Nowak said.

The new program leaves a gap of service for senior citizens who used to participate in the Holiday Wishes program, said Vickie Clark, director of Routt County Department of Human Services.

“They are one of the populations that the store won’t serve,” Clark said.

Elderly residents at Casey’s Pond Senior Living probably wouldn’t choose toys or outdoor clothing as their gifts, and since they’re fed at the facility, food cards wouldn’t make sense either, she said. And senior citizens living at home who participated in Holiday Wishes before probably wouldn’t want to make the trip to the marketplace, Clark said.

To remedy this, the Department of Human Services reached out to county departments that have agreed to “adopt” the elderly, meaning county employees will use the prior Holiday Wishes format to buy gifts. Clark said people who contact the United Way specifically seeking a family to adopt might be referred to the county’s program, as well.

“We will follow the more traditional model,” Clark said.

As the coordinating agency for the Holiday Exchange Market, Routt County United Way is asking for donations of winter clothes for all ages, $25 gift cards to local grocery stores as well as toys. It’s partnered with Toys for Tots in toy collection and asks that toys and clothes be dropped off at one of 20 boxes set up across town. Gift cards will be collected by United Way.

Participants for the marketplace will be coordinated through the participating agencies, and the marketplace will take place Dec. 12 to 15 at Colorado Mountain College.

More information about how to get involved with the Holiday Exchange Market is available on United Way’s website at

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

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