We're well into the holiday season now, a time filled with food, lights, and gathering with friends and family. But it's also a time where many people give back to their communities.
We recently visited one group of volunteers doing just that, and trying to give kids here in western Colorado a Christmas experience they might not otherwise be able to have.
Last weekend the North Fork Valley was alive with holiday festivities - everything from gingerbread contests to holiday dances to hay rides. One of those gatherings took place at Memorial Hall in Hotchkiss.
It was the annual North Fork Children's Christmas Party, a celebration that's been going on for over two decades now, and brings kids of all ages together for a day filled with cookies, busting piñatas, pictures with Santa, and of course, presents.
Pam Bliss is the director of the annual party. She's been bringing volunteers together for 22 years to give kids in the valley the chance for some holiday fun.
“It serves up to 200 North Fork children every year,” Bliss says, and “serves” is the key word there.
Bliss and other volunteers tell me that in some cases, this party is the only Christmas some of these kids will have. Delta County isn't exactly a rich county, and generally tough economic times, coupled with recent mine layoffs in the valley, have made the holidays a particularly hard time for some families.
Volunteers also tell me there's more kids at this year's party than there have been in the past.
“It is up, yea,” says Bliss.
“Yes, more kids than ever before,” says Marla, another volunteer who’s been involved with the annual party for 10 years.
“Mine closings and all the things that have happened to the economy in the valley have not helped the families, so this is a way to help the kids,” she says.
Volunteers are assigned a kid to hang out with for the day, guiding them around the activity booths, helping them paint their faces and slam plastic bats into candy-filled pinatas.
Kids at the party can even go fishing…for candy canes.
Near the end of the party the kids get to open their presents, bought and packaged by volunteers but largely picked out by the kids' parents. Pam Bliss says the kids get plenty of toys, but they're also getting some winter essentials.
“They get either a winter jacket or a pair of shoes, they get an outfit, they get socks, they get underwear…”
The list goes on and on. I ask Bliss why she’s been running the party for so long.
“I love doing it,” she says, “and I think it’s great. In some cases, it may be the only Christmas a child has, and I just think it’s wonderful.”
Between the chaos of piñatas busting and kids scrambling on the ground for candy, I ask Marla why she keeps coming back to the party. She chokes up a bit, answering simply:
“Just to give a little back to the community.”