100,000 free meal served at Elks Lodge in Silverthorne | SummitDaily.com

100,000 free meal served at Elks Lodge in Silverthorne

From left, Deborah Hage who founded the communty dinners, 100,000 meal recipient Zachary Dioguardia, Rotarian Doug Berg, Zachary's mom Caroline Aponte, Rotary district governor Mary Kay Hasz and Elks Lodge #2561 President Terry McGeehan hold a speciasl donut dispaly to mark the occassion.
Dave Matthews / special to the daily |

Get involved

More volunteer participation is always welcome, according to the Rotary’s Community Dinners chair, Deborah Hage. Individuals and groups wanting to take part are encouraged to email her at Deborah@deborahhage.com. To make a donation, send a check made out to Summit County Rotary Charitable Fund (with Community Dinner in the memo line) to PO Box 4401, Frisco, CO 80443.

The excitement may have eluded four-year-old Zachary Dioguardia when he received the 100,000 free meal served by Elks Lodge #2561 in Silverthorne on Oct. 6, but most in attendance were in on the occasion’s significance.

Elks Lodge #2561 president Terry McGeehan said the event had a celebratory feel.

“A lot of attendees didn’t know what was going on at first,” he said. “It was like New Year’s Eve, but instead of counting down we were counting up.”

McGeehan said the dinners were the brainchild of Deborah Hage, who shared some background on the genesis of the event. In 2009, she visited the Family & Intercultural Resource Center in Silverthorne and asked what support was needed. What she learned was that area food banks were overwhelmed serving workers, children and families and that there was a lack of hot meals available.

“Many people, especially the homeless, have no way to carry, store or prepare food,” she said.

What Hage called a “very unique partnership” was formed between the Elks Lodge and the Rotary Club of Summit County.

“Their joint support has been instrumental in securing ongoing food support for Summit County residents,” she said.

On March 3, 2009, the first free community meal at the Elks Lodge served about 50 people, Hage recalled.

The partnership was a natural outgrowth as a number of people had feet in both streams.

“A lot of us are RotarElks,” she noted.

The dinners grew at a fast clip and now serve an average of 300 people a week, McGeehan said. During the peak winter months the crowds grow to over 400 attendees.

The meal is not a soup supper for the poor, Hage explained.

“I think it is need based, but its also community based,” she said. “This is a community dinner where we all come together in solidarity.”

Attendance is comprised of lots of young adults, with children accounting for about 10 percent of their audience, McGeehan said, with fresh faces a regular occurrence.

“I notice a few people that attend once or twice a month, but there’s a lot of new people in the county,” he said.

The meals are a great place to network and meet people in the community, he noted.

There is a donation bucket at every meal, but nothing is mandated.

“You can put in a nickel, a dollar, or nothing, and you are welcome,” Hage said.

Healthy meals are prepared and packaged, and processed, chemical-laden foods are not part of the equation.

“We always serve fresh fruit, salad, vegetables, and meat,” she said. “For many this is the one time a week they get fresh produce.”

Those sentiments were echoed by McGeehan who emphasized the importance of proper nutrition.

“They round up a bunch of good food that’s nourishing and good for the body,” he said.

The Food Bank of the Rockies donates a large percentage of the fare used for the community meals. Chris Taylor, FBR director of communications, was in attendance when the landmark meal was served.

“That seems like a wonderful milestone for a small community like Summit County,” she said.

Other donors include corporations like Target and Oroweat, but assistance is also given by local businesses such as Arapahoe Basin, Cooper Mountain, Keystone Resort, Dillon Dam Brewery, Old Chicago and Bonnie Q BBQ.

“Most of the meals are prepared on site by a dedicated group of volunteer cooks who come every Tuesday to chop and dice, bake and boil sufficient quantities of food for both the Community Dinner and the day shelter for the homeless and indigent at Lord of the Mountains Church,” Hage said.

The meals are served at long tables, European style, Hage explained.

“So everyone eats together,” she said. “It blurs the line between us and them.”

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