Holiday giving program transitions to meet community needs |

Holiday giving program transitions to meet community needs

Routt County United Way Executive Director Kate Nowak poses near gifts for last year’s Holiday Gift Exchange in Steamboat Springs.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Christmas Wishes program, which was started more than three decades ago, has evolved over the years, but its purpose has remained the same — to bring holiday cheer to community members in need.

Most recently, the program took the form of the Holiday Exchange Market, and this year it’s adapting once again, according to Routt County United Way Executive Director Kate Nowak.

“It’s a transition,” Nowak said Monday. “It’s a natural transition as our community of giving has grown and the needs of our community have changed.”

To better meet those needs, Nowak said the local United Way organization wanted to move away from the market to focus on supporting programs that help people year round through the Gift Giving Guide, which can be accessed through the organization’s website at

The guide offers three areas where people can give, including early childhood education, youth success and financial stability. Donors aksi can arequest that donations be used in the area of greatest need.

The guide lets donors select how much they want to give and where they want their money to be spent. Those in the giving mood can provide a scholarship to a day care facility, an afterschool program or reading camps for young students. Donors also can purchase school supplies for students whose family can’t afford them, fund a food bank box for a family of four for a month or send an adult to a six-week financial literacy course among a long list of choices.

“Everything that we listed is stuff that we support like afterschool and summer programming for children,” Nowak said. “It’s really important that every child has a safe, secure, nurturing environment, but not everybody can afford that.”

Nowak said when the gift giving program first started in Steamboat Springs 30 years ago, there was not the same network of human service organizations in place to provide for those in the community that need a helping hand. But today, in addition to Routt County United Way, there are a number of nonprofit organizations that provide much needed assistance.

“It’s a real realization that we have tremendous safety net here and healthy human services in our county, where there’s a number of organizations that are interwoven with each other and refer and respond and help clients through this network,” Nowak said. “It’s really grown over the years. … If somebody needs assistance or help of any kind, we can pretty much help them through one agency or another or maybe a patchwork of agencies.”

According to Nowak, the number of families taking part in the holiday gift programs has fallen during the past four years, and she is hoping by making this transition, these individual human services organizations that are part of the Gift Giving Guide will be able to hand out much needed gifts that will last long after the holidays.

But Nowak also realizes there is still a need to share holiday cheer.

Because of that, she is seeking donations of food gift cards, in $25 denominations, to help ease the burden of the holidays for families in need. She said those wanting to help out can purchase the cards at any grocery store in Routt County and place them in the secure drop box at the United Way office at 443 Oak St. Those who wish to drop the cards off in-person will need to call the office, which has been closed to the public due to COVID-19, at 970-879-5605.

“There is a need to help release some of the financial strain with families this year,” Nowak said. “So we are collecting food cards … and the agencies that are seeing clients in need are keeping track of the families that they would like to give those cards to so that we can hand them out before Christmas.”


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