Purposeful Travel: Where to volunteer in Denver, Aurora and beyond during this holiday season

Volunteers help serve food at a Thanksgiving day feast (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

By | Special to The Denver Post

This article was first published in the Denver Post on December 16, 2018

COLORADO SPRINGS — Our briefing was held in the small chapel at the Salvation Army center in Colorado Springs. I was among about 15 or so people who had signed up to help deliver meals on Thanksgiving. Other volunteers were scooping food into takeout containers, while some were preparing to serve food at the big sit-down meal.

“Thank you for coming in to help today,” said the coordinator. “You could be home watching football, but instead you’re here. It’s so important and we couldn’t do this without you. The names and addresses are on these slips. Call before you go and come on back when you run out of meals.”

I punched in the address for our first delivery. Ten takeout containers of turkey, potatoes and gravy steamed from a bag between my daughters in the back seat. My family had signed up for a three-hour shift to begin a family road trip to southeast Colorado and we’d decided to add this extra element to our trip.

My eldest girls, ages 11 and 8, seemed unsure of what we were doing, but, being good travelers, they were going along for the ride. We drove through the streets of downtown Colorado Springs — mostly empty on a holiday — and pulled up to a squat, brick apartment building near the interstate.

Joshua Berman, Special to The Denver Post

The authors’ daughters deliver Thanksgiving meals to Colorado Springs residents. There are numerous opportunities to give back to Colorado communities this holiday season and beyond.

We delivered the first meal to a tall, slim elderly gentleman who answered the door with his arm in a cast. He nodded his thanks, gave us a toothless smile and we handed him a bag and said, “Happy Thanksgiving;” I watched my girls’ faces as they turned from caution to curiosity to excitement for the next delivery.

Overall, we had a positive experience and I hope we helped a little. More than anything, it made me curious to see what other opportunities are out there, both for the holidays and beyond. Here are a few that I found. Some organizations let you bring your small children with you on your shift, while some have age minimums for children volunteers. Jeff Blumenfeld, author of “Travel with Purpose: A Field Guide to Voluntourism” (coming in spring 2019), says you can start by looking up opportunities by your county or zip code at Volunteer Match: volunteermatch.org.

VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES:

Denver

African Community Center of Denver
Info: 925 S. Niagara St. Suite 200, Denver; acc-den.org/volunteer; 303-399-4500.

Their mission is to help refugees rebuild their lives in Denver through local networks of supportive people, services and community activities. Volunteer opportunities include helping people get around, the “first friends” program, ESL and youth tutoring, and employment and administrative advising.

Denver Rescue Mission
Info: Various locations in Denver and Fort Collins; denverrescuemission.org.
With community centers in Denver and Fort Collins that serve 900,000 meals per year, they usually have a need for volunteers to help prep and serve. It’s easy to sign up on their website. They’re full for this month, but have opportunities in the new year.

Urban Peak
Info: 2100 Stout St., Denver; 423 E Cucharras St., Colorado Springs; urbanpeak.org; contact Tamar Berner at 303-974-2954.
The organization’s website states it is “serving youth experiencing homelessness” in both Denver and Colorado Springs. There are a few ways you can support Urban Peak, including serving meals (three times a day, seven days a week), and longer term (six months minimum) with opportunities such as GED tutors (weekday afternoons at shelter) and front office support (weekday mornings at their drop-in center).

Aurora

Casa de Paz
Info: casadepazcolorado.org; 720-500-2272.
Near the GEO immigrant detention center, Casa de Paz offers housing, meals, visits and transportation to families separated by immigrant detention. Since 2012, this volunteer-run organization has hosted more than 1,650 immigrant guests. It holds volunteer trainings on the first Saturday of every month. Volunteers help out by hosting men and women being released from detention, visiting people being detained, donating household items, bringing groceries or a meal, or writing letters to detainees.

Colorado Springs

Salvation Army Colorado Springs
Info: 908 Yuma St., Colorado Springs; coloradosprings.salvationarmy.org.
This organization runs a transitional housing facility and a number of programs around the city; it usually has a number of different volunteer needs, both centered around the holidays and year-round. Sign up on its website.

Fort Collins, Loveland

Food Bank for Larimer County
Info: 5706 Wright Drive, Loveland; foodbanklarimer.org/volunteer.
You can help in their warehouse, kitchen or for special events. Most volunteer positions are two- or three-hour shifts on Monday-Friday, between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. They have a few Saturday shifts in Loveland.

United Way of Larimer County
Info: uwaylc.org/volunteer. 
It offers specific holiday volunteer opportunities, such as donations, adopt-a-family, special event support and bell ringing, and also other shifts throughout the year (such as peer counseling, tutoring, etc.).

Routt County

Routt County United Way
Info: 443 Oak St., Steamboat Springs; routtcountyunitedway.org/volunteer.
Check out its Holiday Exchange Market, which serves local families during a difficult time of year. Routt County United Way also does the holiday bell ringing during this time, which serves as a fundraiser for Health & Crisis Services in Routt County. Additionally, it connects volunteers to other nonprofits in the community.

One Warm Coat
Info: onewarmcoat.org
The organization will help you organize a coat drive with your family or through your business, or help you locate a drive to visit and drop off a coat.

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