The holidays are about spending time with family, enjoying home-cooked meals and expressing gratitude for what you have while showing loved ones how much you care. However, not all families can celebrate with a hot meal and lavish gifts, and for some, a safe place to take refuge is at the top of their wish list. Consider donating your time or money to these organizations to help them help your neighbor this holiday season.
Loveland’s Community Kitchen
Loveland’s Community Kitchen serves a hot meal to the hungry seven days a week, no questions asked.
“We serve people experiencing homelessness as well as people who are facing housing insecurity and maybe need some help making ends meet,” says staff member Ashlin Lorenzo. “We can essentially get rid of really difficult decisions at the end of the month when people are having to decide to pay a bill or have enough to eat.”
Many families in Northern Colorado have those difficult decisions to make. According to the Colorado Children’s Campaign Kids Count Data Center, more than 9,000 children in Larimer and Weld counties were living in poverty in 2020. With inflation and housing costs hitting especially hard in Colorado, more families are likely to be struggling this holiday season.
Local organizations are determined to help. Loveland’s Community Kitchen started in 1996 in the basement of First United Presbyterian Church when a group of people saw the hunger in Loveland and decided to do something about it, says board member Sally Wabeke.
“On the very first day, they served 36 meals,” Wabeke says. “They started serving three days a week. Shortly after, they started serving five days a week. After a few years, they started serving seven days a week.”
After outgrowing its original space in 2010, the organization moved to 427 N. Garfield Ave. in Loveland. In 2022, the kitchen served 104,424 meals, and it’s on track to exceed 100,000 meals served again this year, Lorenzo says. As of Oct. 31, the kitchen has served the community for 2,500 consecutive days, meaning it hasn’t closed for any reason, including inclement weather, holidays or pandemics.
“We’re consistent because we know our guests really rely on the stability,” Lorenzo says. “We don’t change our hours, and we’re open when we say we are.”
When asked about the growth and success of the kitchen, Lorenzo says it’s a heartbreaking question to answer. While she’s amazed to see how many people the kitchen has impacted, that means more people are going hungry.
“So many of us are one tragic event from being in a situation where we really need help,” Lorenzo says.
To raise the spirits of those they serve, the organization tries to make the holidays feel like home. On Thanksgiving, they serve a turkey dinner, and for Christmas, Lorenzo says volunteers try to do something special. Last year, volunteers wrapped blankets and handed them out.
If people aren’t comfortable visiting the kitchen for a meal, Wabeke says folks are welcome to drive up and get a meal to go from the kitchen’s food trailer. The kitchen is there to feed them no matter what, any time of year.
How you can help
Donating food and volunteering are the best ways to support Loveland’s Community Kitchen, Lorenzo says. To learn about volunteer opportunities, email lovelandscommunitykitchen.org or call 970.541.0601. You can donate financially at lovelandcommunitykitchen.org. The kitchen is specifically looking for these items:
Meats (tuna, salmon, spam, etc.)
Soups, stews and chili
Pastas (Chef Boyardee, SpaghettiOs, etc.)
Fruits and vegetables
Ready to Eat:
Peanut butter and other nut butters
Hot chocolate packets
Shelf-stable milk and milk substitutes
Shelf-stable coffee creamer
Service and support items:
6-inch paper plates
18-inch plastic wrap
Plastic bags (gallon, quart, sandwich and snack bags)
Woody Carlson worked in the Lutheran church for many years, often with people experiencing homelessness, before he retired. That’s when Carlson, of Fort Collins, heard about a Denver laundry truck. It was a program that helped folks wash their clothes for free.
Until seeing a news story about the laundry truck, he hadn’t considered that need for the homeless. With lots of extra time on his hands, he decided he wanted to try something similar to serve people in his community.
In 2019, Carlson and a dedicated team raised the funds to make it happen. Since then, the organization, Mobile Laundry, has partnered with Homeward Alliance.
It’s a fairly simple process. A team pulls the truck up to a location, hooks it up to a water source and washes the dirty laundry, says Patricia Friehauf, one of the founding board members of the nonprofit.
“We’ve had people come back and say, ‘I was able to get a job because I was able to do my laundry,’” she says. “We have moms who tell us their kids aren’t embarrassed to go to school anymore because their clothes don’t smell bad.”
Many of the people Mobile Laundry serves are children in Poudre School District and Thompson School District, Friehauf says.
Between the two school districts, more than 2,000 students qualify for McKinney-Vento services, Friehauf says, a federal law and program designed to provide students experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity with resources and protections.
In 2022, the team washed 4,758 loads of laundry and served 1,298 people. The Mobile Laundry truck is decked out with six sets of washers and dryers. Folks can drop off their dirty clothes between 8:30 a.m. and noon, then pick them up about 90 minutes later, or at the end of the day. The clothes are cleaned, dried and folded.
“We max out 45 loads every day that we operate,” Friehauf says. “There’s way more need than we’ll ever be able to meet.”
Where to find Mobile Laundry:
• Tuesdays at Fullana Learning Center,
200 N. Grant Ave., Fort Collins
• Thursdays and Fridays at Loveland Public
Library, 300 N. Adams Ave., Loveland
How you can help
This year, the laundry machines are coming up on the end of their warranty and wearing out, Friehauf says.
Mobile Laundry aims to raise $20,000 to replace the machines before they wear out. As of this writing, it raised $12,000. Tax-deductible donations can be made through Homeward Alliance by visiting iny.cc/2ixbvz. Write “Mobile Laundry” in the box that asks what inspired you to donate funds to the program.
Donations can also be mailed to Homeward Alliance Mobile Laundry, P.O. Box 873, Fort Collins, CO 80522-0873. Homeward Alliance tax ID #27-4641606.
To learn more about Mobile Laundry, to donate or to volunteer, go to homewardalliance.org/hwa/mobile-laundry.
Realities For Children
Realities For Children is an organization that provides funding for emergency and ongoing support for children in need in Northern Colorado, especially those who have been abused, neglected, abandoned or are at-risk.
Last year, 1,056 children received emergency services from Realities For Children during the holiday season, says Meg Castor, the organization’s community outreach coordinator. A total of 5,094 children were helped locally throughout the year.
That often means providing funding for medical treatment or mental health services for children being removed from abusive family situations.
Beyond emergency services, the organization also helps abused and neglected children reclaim some of the joys of being a kid. It has provided bikes for over 300 local children as part of its Bikes for Tykes program and toys for 2,554 children through its annual Santa’s Workshop toy distribution.
Castor says the organization got its start when Craig Secher, Realities founder and executive director, saw kids in the system falling through the cracks. Secher was a child protection case manager with Larimer County Child Protective Services at the time.
In 2019, more than 200 kids and teens left foster care in Colorado without ever getting adopted, reuniting with their parents or moving in with relatives, according to a report by the Colorado Sun. More than a third of foster youth who emancipate from the system are homeless by age 21, it states. According to another report by the Sun, in the last decade, 1,094 Colorado kids who were adopted from foster care ended up back in the system. That report also found that financial assistance available to adoptive parents to help pay for services such as therapy and daycare varies widely by county, creating an inequitable system.
Secher realized the system wasn’t built to address the needs he saw and the problems he encountered, so he figured out another way to help. That other way focuses on fundraising and collaboration. The idea is to bring money and resources together to facilitate Northern Colorado youth getting the help they need within a system that is often underfunded and overstressed.
“We’re not reinventing the wheel,” Castor says. “We really want everyone in the community to work together to support children coming out of these circumstances with hope and healing.”
While child protective services can remove a child from a dangerous situation, they often need more than that in order to heal and eventually flourish. Realities For Children partners with 40 local agencies, including Homeward Alliance, Poudre School District, Court Appointed Special Advocates of Larimer County, Sexual Assault Victim Advocacy Center and others to fill those gaps.
For example, the PSD McKinney-Vento Homeless Education program identifies children within the school district who are deemed homeless and provides immediate access to school enrollment, transportation, free lunch and waived fees.
Realities helps connect children and their caretakers with those kinds of resources to maximize their stability.
“We provide them a safety net of support,” Castor says. “If any of our partners need an emergency service—and they do—we can provide that service within an hour of the request.”
How you can help
NightLights is Realities For Children’s biggest fundraiser of the year. In 2022, the organization raised more than $350,000 in a single night.
For nearly three decades, the blue 50-foot NightLights Tree has stood tall in Fort Collins on the lawn of First Presbyterian Church, 531 S. College Ave. Every year, more than 30,000 lights—blue for the internationally recognized color of child abuse prevention—brighten up the December sky.
Castor says one of the biggest ways to make an impact is to donate to NightLights. Folks can attend the event and donate to support the organization while spreading holiday cheer.
“This is our end-of-year giving outreach, and it’s important for us to continue to provide resources,” she says.
For more information about how to support local children in need, go to realitiesforchildren.com.
Now that you’re in the spirit, click below to see more local nonprofits you can help out!