Community comes together to provide meals to those struggling due to the impacts of COVID-19 |

Community comes together to provide meals to those struggling due to the impacts of COVID-19

Sharon Stone, owner of Sharon's in the Riverside Plaza, started offering free breakfasts to help those who have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by John F. Russell)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — After public health orders closed restaurant doors to in-person dining across Steamboat Springs in November, local residents, like Jon Schafer, decided it was time to step up. And he was not alone.

Schafer, Bart Kounovsky and a few others created Steamboat Local Love, a program that asked people to commit to ordering more takeout and encouraged individuals and businesses to donate toward the purchase of gift cards from local restaurants that were in turn given out to needy families through LiftUp of Routt County’s food bank.

“We are unbelievably stoked,” Schafer said of the program’s success. “We were so pleased (with the response) and just can’t say enough good things about the people in this town.”

Kelly and Joe Brougher were already looking for ways to help those in need when they learned about Steamboat Local Love. Together, with their son Luke, the family contributed $30,000 to the effort in addition to purchasing takeout meals at least four days per week.

“We just love the restaurants here, and we love the community,” Kelly said. ”It just seems like when something happens, the whole town pulls together and helps each other out. We really just wanted to be a part of that and to give back.“

The couple retired about 10 years ago and started the Brougher Family Foundation Inc., which provides money each year to children’s health care and education initiatives. They own a second home in Steamboat and spend about six months a year here. When they are in town, Kelly said they enjoy eating out.

“We have gotten to know so many of the waiters, waitresses and owners that we just felt so bad and wanted to help,” Kelly said. “So, we were motivated to give.”

Love Local has already purchased $120,000 in gift cards from local restaurants, and Schafer expects the effort will raise a total of $150,000 by the time all donations are collected and gift cards purchased and distributed through LiftUp.

Schafer said the program also motivated locals to pledge to order takeout more, which he said resulted in at least 700 additional meals being purchased.

“The program provides additional food to our neighbors in need, while also serving the local restaurateurs,” said Sue Fegelein, LiftUp of Routt County’s executive director. “It’s a very creative win-win for our community, and we here at LiftUp are very grateful to Jon and Bart for creating Steamboat Local Love and seeing it through to such amazing fruition and to all of the donors who helped get it there.”

Schafer said the group will continue to accept donations on the Steamboat Local Love website. Donations also can be made at Yampa Valley Bank or on the group’s GoFundMe page.

Kathy and Mike Diemer, owners of Johnny B. Good’s, also have done their part to help people in the community dealing with food insecurity.

Kathy estimates the local diner has provided about 25 meals a day to people in need since restaurants were closed to in-person dining Nov. 20. She is grateful to the community that also has come forward with financial and food donations to assist the business in meal distribution, including the Steve Green Co., which donated containers for meals, as well as the Doran Family Ranch, JK Cattle Co. and the Warhorse Ranch, which donated food, goods and services.

“The support we’ve gotten from the community has been great. People we know as customers came in and gave money towards it, and there were people I know who really did not have the money to give, and they were giving,” Kathy said.

“We will keep going,” she added. “People may have made it through Christmas, but now all those big heating bills are coming up and all that. We’re just going to keep it going and just hope for the best.”

Sharon Stone, owner of Sharon’s in the Riverside Plaza, said she has given away between 300 and 500 hot breakfasts since a customer wrote her a check and asked her to provide free breakfast in mid-December. Those efforts have gained traction the past couple of weeks.

“We have has some amazing donations,” Stone said while cooking a free breakfast earlier this week. “Our community has been so generous, and I’m so grateful.”

Stone still offers her regular menu to paying customers, but for those who can’t pay, she has three free breakfast plates that she serves from 7 a.m. to noon Monday through Saturday. Those choices include biscuits and gravy with eggs, baby pancakes with eggs or a breakfast burrito with green chili or salsa. She also is now offering bacon after a donor came in and offered to pay for it.

“We have been kind of modifying it and making sure we offer something for everyone,” Stone said. “If bacon will make you smile, then you get it.”

Stone said the free breakfasts have given she and her staff a purpose, and she plans to continue offering the meals at no charge until the end of mud season

“We are saying May 31 because it’s going to be a hard winter,” Stone said. “The really amazing part is how many hungry people that are out there. And it’s people from every walk of life. … Everybody has really struggled with this pandemic.”

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