SILVERTHORNE - Due to the generosity of residents and local businesses, the weekly free dinner at the Elks Lodge in Silverthorne isn't just a symbol of economic challenges faced in Summit County. It also represents the community's good faith and support of each other.
"It's been successful beyond our wildest imaginations," said Rotarian dinner coordinator Deb Hage of the weekly Tuesday meal. "I think most people are surprised at the level of need. We're very gratified by the amount of community participation."
In the dinner's 2009 yearly report, Hage said "50 people were served March 3. Between March 3 and April 28 - about two months - there was a steady climb in participation to 200. The dinner participation held steady at about 200 for five months, through September. October had approximately 250 participants and then Nov. 3 we served 307 people. It was a scramble to keep up but everyone was fed." The number of meal attendees each week has held steady in the hundreds for months now.
"To date the restaurants have opted to provide 300 servings and have not sought extra reimbursement," Hage said in the report. "Each of the restaurants that have served so far have been more then willing to raise their donation of supplies and labor to meet the increased need. That is not expected to continue as not all of the restaurants committed to preparing the meal in the future are as large as Copper Mountain Resort, Keystone Resort and Pug Ryan's. Bill Gilchrist agreed that in the event we run out of food we may heat up and serve canned prepared food such as chili, stew or soup. We have purchased 10 cans of chili as a reserve in case that becomes necessary."
Hage, who's dedicated her life to helping needy children and families across the globe, saw a need in Summit County last spring, and made her vision reality with the help of Summit County Rotarians and Lord of the Mountains Church.
"One of the things I've been involved in with Rotary is World Service - usually projects outside the USA. When Deborah (Hage) came up with serving the community world right here in Summit County with a free meal for those who were in need, it seemed a natural (fit)," said Alan Wickert, a community dinner volunteer. "With the idea and the help from the Elks Club, we got started."
Hage noted a plethora of volunteers have assisted the dinner, including high school students, local businesses, individuals and church members. And funds have filtered into Hage's hands from all over Summit County.
The Family and Intercultural Resource Center - another nonprofit focused on helping needy locals - supports the community dinner idea and appreciates its role in the county.
"Any way that the community is able to come together and support each other is a really wonderful thing," said Anita Overmyer, the development director for the Family and Intercultural Resource Center. "It's great for people struggling through these times to have different resources for help."
According to the annual dinner report spanning service from March 3 through Dec. 15, the free Elks Lodge community dinner has served 8,547 meals this year. Of that, 3,082 meals were served to children. The dinner's income has been so far $24,609.31, its expenses have reached $17,654.37, and its current food and service fund includes $6,954.94. Initially the dinner was funded completely by the Rotary, but now most of the funding is coming from non-Rotary sources.
In Hage's report, she also said future funding is dependent on several outstanding grant requests.
"For now, there appears to be sufficient funds for the first half and possibly more of 2010, at which point the entire future of the dinner will be reevaluated to determine if it still meets a need and should be continued through 2011," Hage said in her report. "Much of that discussion will depend on the economy, both locally and nationally."
For more information about the free community dinner, call Hage at (970) 262-2998.
Caitlin Row can be reached at (970) 668-4633 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.