Annual Thanksgiving dinner offers opportunity that brings Routt County community together

Alfredo Jimenez loads up his plate at the 2017 Routt County United Way Thanksgiving Dinner. This years dinner, sponsored by Mountain Valley Bank, will take place from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday.
Scott Franz/Steamboat Pilot & Today

For longtime local Scott Ford, Routt County United Way’s annual Thanksgiving dinner is about a lot more than getting a hot holiday meal.

“I kind of derive my energy from being around people, and the community dinner just provides a great opportunity to see folks I’ve known and meet folks I didn’t,” Ford said. “It’s kind of funny, I think, particularly for adults, we get to know each other if we learn with each other, eat with each other or go to church with each other.”

Ford, who has lived in Steamboat Springs, has made going to Steamboat’s community dinner a tradition over the past decade. He’s missed a few, but most years you can find him visiting at one of the many tables — and finding a seat next to a person he doesn’t know.

”We’re a town where we are all interconnected with each other — and that just means that the dental hygienist you just saw on Tuesday, you saw at the school play on Thursday night and the church on Sunday. The community dinner just provides a venue for that,” Ford said. “I make an effort to sit with people I don’t know, and that really results in me getting to know more people.”

Each year, the dinner brings in between 500 and 800 people. This will be the first time that guests have been able to sit across the table from each other since 2019.

The event, which takes place from 1-5 p.m. at the Steamboat Community Center, 1605 Lincoln Ave., is made possible thanks to food donations from individuals and local businesses, the 120 volunteers who give up part of their holiday to serve meals and clean up, and main sponsor Mountain Valley Bank.

Doug Matthews, who owns Bred, got involved several years ago when he started donating bread and rolls for the event, and then stepped in to help serve.

“We’re all connected. Everyone on the planet is connected in some way or another, and I won’t say it’s a duty — but hopefully there is some responsibility — towards taking care of the local community as a whole,” he said. “I think that‘s why people step up and donate a turkey or donate their time, and they feel a social responsibility to give back to the community.”

That’s why Matthews rolled up his sleeves several years ago and got involved with the dinner, and he is not alone. He said there is a long list of volunteers — too many to list — including Darren Butcher and John Cummins, who have been a part of the effort for years. He said he is thrilled it will be an “in-person” event again this year and that people will be able to gather as they have in the past.

“It will be a lot easier again because, when we have a sit down dinner, people come from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.,” Matthews said. “The way we did it for the past two years, everybody would show up and get their meals, and then they take it home and eat it at their leisure through the rest of the day — but they all got it out of the way and showed up at one o’clock.”

In addition to the good food at this year’s dinner, Todd Musselman and his son, Colin will be providing music from 1-3 p.m. Both Matthews and Ford are excited the event is moving back to a more traditional setting in the wake of COVID-19.

“Everybody defines community a little bit differently, but at its very core it is that we know each other, and I think the United Way Community Thanksgiving dinner it creates that,” Ford said. “It‘s a little bit like that sitcom ‘Cheers’ because when you walk into the community center, everybody knows your name.”

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