Beyond the Thanksgiving feast: Tales of gratitude and ways to give back from Routt County nonprofits |

Beyond the Thanksgiving feast: Tales of gratitude and ways to give back from Routt County nonprofits

Laura Siverling, a volunteer with LiftUp of Routt County, stacks shelves at the food bank on Wednesday. For many residents, Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful and give back to the community through volunteering and donations.
Derek Maiolo

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Thanksgiving has arrived in the Yampa Valley, with kitchens and grocery stores abuzz with people trying to prepare family classics or whip up new recipes. 

While the holiday may have some controversial roots in the history of American colonization, it has become a holiday associated with community and gratitude. In Routt County, it is a time to give back for many residents and get involved with volunteer opportunities. 

Steamboat Pilot & Today spoke with several local nonprofits to share their holiday stories and how people can help others in the coming weeks. 

For Kate Nowak, executive director of Routt County United Way, Thanksgiving is one of the busiest days of the year, but also a time to gather and share. She helps to organize the Community Thanksgiving Dinner, which provides a free meal to hundreds of people.

The holiday week also marks the start of the annual Holiday Exchange Market, one of the nonprofit’s biggest events of the year, behind the Thanksgiving dinner. Several nonprofits help with the effort to collect money, food and holiday gifts, including LiftUp of Routt County, Integrated Community and the Young Professionals Network, as well as the Routt County Department of Human Services.

Among the items most needed for the Holiday Exchange Market are winter clothing for children, toys and long underwear and boots for adults, according to Nowak. People also can purchase grocery gift cards to donate at the local City Market and Safeway. 

Nowak encourages people to drop off toys and clothes at one of the various mitten boards around town or in front of Walmart this weekend and next, where members of the Young Professionals Network will be accepting donations. Grocery gift cards should be dropped off at the United Way office, at 443 Oak St., Nowak said. 

She requests that people do not wrap anything because recipients of the items are able to choose specific colors and sizes through the Holiday Exchange Market.

During the holidays, a certain serendipitous magic provides some heartwarming miracles, Nowak said. She recounted a story from last year, when a family who had recently moved to the area came to the Holiday Exchange Market looking for a pair of boots for their young daughter. 

It was one of those bone-chilling winter days when the temperature plummeted to well below freezing. The mother, as Nowak remembers, was wearing a light fleece jacket and plastic cowboy boots. Nowak was helping the woman peruse the donated items when a bell rang at the front desk. A “well-to-do” woman greeted Nowak at the desk, wearing a sleek mink coat. She was dropping off a pair of expensive winter boots, size 8. 

Nowak returned to the woman with plastic cowboy boots and asked what size shoe she wore. 

“A women’s size 8,” she replied. 

She put the boots on, and in a Cinderella moment they fit perfectly. Nowak remembers the woman commented about how comfortable the boots were, and so warm. 

“Yes they are and they’re yours,” Nowak told her. 

The woman left with the boots, as well as a pair for her daughter. She insisted on keeping the plastic cowboy boots, too. 

“That’s the miracle of people donating things to those in need,” Nowak said. 

For Cary Rentola, director of development for LiftUp, Thanksgiving also is a time of gratitude, but linked to a memory that is difficult to recount. Six years ago, in late October, her husband, Jeremy, was involved in a near-fatal car crash in their previous home of Larimer County. 

“He ended up being hospitalized for 14 weeks,” Rentola said.

That meant she spent the entire holiday season — Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year — by her husband’s hospital bed, trying her best to support him. 

“I was thrust into the role of ultimate caregiver,” she said. 

Friends and family helped every step of the way, Rentola remembers. One friend convinced her to leave the hospital on Thanksgiving morning to participate in a community fun run, after which she rushed back to her husband’s side to share a special holiday meal the hospital prepared. 

“It’s nice to be reminded how much people care for others,” Rentola said. 

In her new position with LiftUp — she joined the nonprofit earlier this month — she sees firsthand families benefitting from the food bank supplies or children getting nutritious food through the Rocket Pack program. 

“It’s really amazing, emotional work,” she said. 

With the holiday season ahead, she encourages people to consider making a monetary donation to LiftUp or volunteer to stock shelves at the food bank or donation center. Residents also can host a food drive in their neighborhoods or workplaces to help keep supplies at the food bank full during the busy upcoming weeks. And a quick reminder, the free Community Thanksgiving Dinner goes from 1 to 5 p.m. on Thursday. Volunteers can sign up to help at

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.

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