Creating Christmas cheer
Dinners in Boulder, Niwot offer celebration for those with no place to go
By Madeline St. Amour • Staff Writer
Joan Raderman grew up with her grandparents. They lived with her and were never alone, she said. They were connected and engaged.
When Raderman’s parents explored opening a nursing home, she visited one for the first time and was traumatized, she said.
“Not everybody ages the same way,” Raderman realized that day, she said. “Some people are very isolated and forgotten.”
Now, Raderman runs Circle of Care, a nonprofit that takes seniors out of their homes and into the community for arts events. Each year the nonprofit also brings seniors to a Christmas dinner hosted by Niwot Tavern.
The tavern is one of two Boulder County locations that offers people a place to
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Valery Fletcher, center, sings Christmas carols with Laurie Dameron, who was providing festive music Tuesday for the Niwot Tavern’s free Christmas dinner. The restaurant hit its 10th anniversary of the Christmas meal tradition. For more photos go to dailycamera.com.
Photos by Paul Aiken / Staff Photographer
Volunteer server Cate Fenner, center, laughs with Jeff Middaugh, left, and Maryann Christensen as the two eat their meal Tuesday at Bridge House’s Community Table Kitchen Christmas meal at the Lazy Dog Sports Bar & Grill in Boulder.
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celebrate the holiday if they are alone, whatever the reason may be.
Valery Fletcher, who lives at the High Mar Boulder Housing Partners property for seniors, attended this year’s Christmas dinner on Tuesday at the Niwot Tavern for the first time. Fletcher’s family is dispersed in Oklahoma and New York, so she said events like this dinner are wonderful for seniors like her.
The free dinner at Niwot Tavern is offered by the restaurant’s co-owners, Bob Russell and Tony Santelli, who celebrated their 10th anniversary of the annual holiday event this year. Guests are offered a choice of turkey, prime rib or pasta.
Russell said they offer a place for those who have nowhere to go on Christmas. More than 70 percent of almost 200 guests come by themselves or with only one other person, he said. Many are seniors brought by Circle of Care, but others are not connected to the nonprofit and come to the dinner after seeing advertisements for the event.
The dinner is also a family affair. Both Russell’s and Santelli’s families work as volunteers for the event. By 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, as the second wave of guests came in, grandchildren buzzed around to get drinks and serve food. The owners’ children plate the food, and their wives make the drinks and act as hostesses.
Russell said they chose to start the annual free Christmas dinners to give back to the community.
“We feel ourselves, our families, have been very lucky,” he said. “(...) It gives us a lot of satisfaction, a lot of pleasure to give back.”
“These are the people that have made our country great,” he added, and now that they need some help Russell feels it’s important to give back to them.
Raderman’s army of volunteers provided transportation to the dinner for many of the senior guests. One volunteer went around the room playing Christmas carols on a guitar while singing. Others sat with guests through the dinner to make sure they didn’t feel alone.
Joy Wainstein, who has been volunteering with Circle of Care for about six years, said the older women are role models for her.
“You have to put yourself in other people’s shoes, and I’ll have to fill those shoes later,” she said.
In Boulder, Bridge House held its fourth free Christmas meal at the Lazy Dog Sports Bar & Grill for those experiencing homelessness as well as those who don’t have family to celebrate with nearby during the holidays. The event, now in its fourth year, usually serves about 300 people.
Billy Maldonado, a Boulder man who is part of Bridge House’s Ready to Work program, was enjoying his meal after recently starting a new journey in his life.
“My life was headed in two directions before: I was either locked up, or I was gonna be dead or sick,” he said. “These people gave me an opportunity to be much more than I ever thought I could be.”
Maldonado joined the Ready to Work program a few weeks ago, so he will soon start training for either Bridge House’s landscaping business or culinary business. The nonprofit runs two social enterprise businesses as part of its jobtraining program, which provides skills training and housing for those who work in the businesses.
Twelve employees of the culinary business, Community Table Kitchen, prepared and cooked the food served at the dinner, which included large plates of green beans, pie, sweet potato and turkey, while volunteers served the meals and brought drinks to guests. Younger children also hurried around the dining room carrying thick socks stuffed with goodies for guests.
James Halepesk was quickly plating pies and desserts for guests at around 1 p.m. Tuesday. Halepesk completed the Community Table Kitchen program and now works for Bridge House. In the past, he’s attended the dinner as a guest.
Ready to Work was a great opportunity for him, Halepesk said, and now he has a great opportunity to give back and help the community at their annual dinners.
“We love the Christmas event because it’s a way for us to provide some holiday spirit for our clients and also involve our Community Table Kitchen in the process, which is a really great way for our clients to give back to the community as well,” said Isabel McDevitt, CEO of Bridge House.
Jacob Floughton was attending the dinner for the first time after hearing about it from locals, he said.
“I’m grateful for it,” Floughton said after receiving his meal. “It’s a cool thing. I appreciate that they’re helping us.” Madeline St. Amour: 303-684-5212, firstname.lastname@example.org