Stuffed for the holiday: Sharing more than food at Steamboat’s Community Thanksgiving Dinner |

Stuffed for the holiday: Sharing more than food at Steamboat’s Community Thanksgiving Dinner

Five-year-old Aiden Waldron bites into a chocolate chip brownie topped with whipped cream during Thursday's Community Thanksgiving Dinner at the Steamboat Springs Community Center.
Derek Maiolo

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Routt County’s annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner is really more of a feast. 

The kitchen of the Steamboat Springs Community Center was literally stuffed with food: more than 30 turkeys, heaps of mashed potatoes and green bean casseroles stacked in shiny aluminum trays, along with a cauldron of steaming gravy large enough to concoct a year’s worth of a witch’s spells. 

“Have you ever seen so much food?” asked volunteer Liz Lambert.

Such large portions, all donated from members of the community and businesses, are necessary to feed the hundreds of people who lined up on Thursday for the free meal. Last year, 870 people filled their plates and bellies at the dinner, according to Kate Nowak, executive director of Routt County United Way, which organizes the event. 

The crowd includes longtime residents as well as newcomers and visitors, people of various ages, ethnicities and backgrounds sharing stories alongside the food. 

The event has been a mainstay in Steamboat for more than 20 years, according to Nowak, and some make a tradition of coming each Thanksgiving.

Mike Cook has lived here since he was a young child. On Thursday, he helped his 97-year-old father, Gene, load up his plate and take a seat at one of the communal round tables in the dining hall of the Community Center. 

Sitting near them was the Rulli family, who has traveled from Fort Collins just to attend the Thanksgiving dinner for about the past four years. 

“This has become a family tradition for us,” said Bob Rulli, sitting next to his children, 8-year-old Luca and 10-year-old Roslyn, and his wife, Kristine. 

From left, Heidi Theis, Chad Whitaker and Susannah Lusk carve turkeys before the Community Thanksgiving Dinner.
Derek Maiolo

What brings them back each year is the warm, community feeling at the event, how people they’ve never met spark up conversation as if they were family.

“Even if you’re a stranger, we feel totally welcome here,” Bob said. 

The food people tucked their forks and knives into represented the typical Thanksgiving fare of turkey, casseroles and potatoes, but some of the donated dishes showed some unique variations. Darren Burcher has been volunteering to manage the kitchen for multiple years, but every year, he sees a new recipe that surprises him. On Thursday, he pulled back the lid of one aluminum tray to reveal a sweet potato mash topped with orange slices.

Steamboat resident Steven Veaughn gets a drizzle of gravy.
Derek Maiolo

“I’ve never seen that before,” he said.

Burcher also noticed someone brought a curried turkey, another first for the local chef. 

Of course, it would not be a Thanksgiving feast without something sweet to finish it. Children’s eyes widened upon seeing hundreds of pieces of pie and other desserts splayed on tables stretching the length of one side of the dining hall. In a back room, 12-year-old Kenny Orce and Suzanne Murphy sliced up the desserts and loaded them on plates. 

Volunteers Suzanne Murphy, left and 12-year-old Kenny Orce sliced hundreds of pieces of pie for dessert.
Derek Maiolo

Murphy, a professional baker for the local cafe, Mountain Brew, has been a prolific pie maker this holiday. Over the weekend, she baked 21 pies for private orders, making the crusts from scratch. 

“I thought it would be fun to volunteer cutting pies for a change rather than making them,” she said. 

This was Murphy’s first time volunteering for the Community Dinner. Her family traveled elsewhere for the holiday, but she decided to stay home. 

Hundreds of people took part in Thursday’s free Community Thanksgiving Dinner. All of the traditional dishes, from green bean casseroles to cranberry sauce, were on the menu.
Derek Maiolo

“Since I’m on my own, I thought this would be a wonderful thing to do, so I adopted everyone here as my family,” she said. 

Such is the essence of the holiday, to put aside the differences that keep people apart and to share, if only for a meal, the stories and memories that bring people together. 

Students from Elissa Chapman’s second-grade class at Soda Creek Elementary School decorated placemats for the dinner.
Derek Maiolo
Glenn Boesger sports a Turkey costume as he dishes out food.
Derek Maiolo

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

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