Donations still needed for Holiday Exchange Market |

Donations still needed for Holiday Exchange Market

Families shop for gifts at the Routt County United Way's annual Holiday Market Exchange.
Courtesy photo

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Donors have only until Wednesday, Dec. 11, to buy items for the annual Holiday Exchange Market, and there is still a need for many items, according to Routt County United Way Executive Director Kate Nowak.

“If you want to give to people in need in Routt County, this is an excellent way to do it,” Nowak said.

The items at the top of the list include $25 grocery store gift cards, winter boots for adults and children, long underwear for adults and snow pants for children.

Nowak said donations are down this year, possibly because of the shorter than normal time between Thanksgiving and their deadline — the duration of the donation drive.

“Mitten boards” are scattered throughout the county — at nearly every bank, grocery store and at most churches and schools. Donors take a mitten with a requested item, buy the item and return it with the mitten.

The recipients — families who have been referred to the United Way by various public agencies — then shop for gifts on Saturday, Dec. 14, at the Holiday Market Exchange at Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs. The exchange is only open to participants who have been invited in advance by United Way.

Over the past 20 years, the local holiday giving program has evolved into a more participatory event, Nowak said.

For the first decade, donors chose specific families and their corresponding lists. But that didn’t always match up, Nowak said. Sometimes, donors took it upon themselves to choose things or passed judgment on the list.

So the steering committee, which consists of representatives from numerous community groups and agencies, looked for a way to redesign the program. Nowak said they found ideas and inspiration in Robert Lupton’s book “Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It).”  

Thus was born the market exchange.

This year, there are 137 families on the list of invites, which equates to over 500 individuals, Nowak said.

Those families are surveyed about items of greatest need. If they want to participate, they are required to either pay a $10 fee or put in two hours of volunteering anywhere in the community. 

At first, nearly everyone paid the $10, Nowak said. But more and more families are now choosing to volunteer, including helping to run the market.

The CMC auditorium is transformed into a market, and each participant is given a certain number of tokens, depending on the amount of donations. 

All gifts are then taken to a gift-wrapping station.

Whether it is a toy or a new winter jacket or the grocery cards, these gifts make a huge difference for families, Nowak said. It’s the difference between paying the electric bill and putting food on the table or a parent going without boots, so they can buy them for their kids, she said.

“Because it is so expensive to live here in this county, we have a number of families who are struggling,” Nowak said. “Both parents are working, many times working multiple jobs. There is quite a need, and it is throughout all of Routt County.”

A list of mitten board locations can be found at Call 970-879-5605 for more information.

To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.

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