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Piñon Project and United Way celebrate charitable giving

Members of the student government at Pueblo Community College donated gifts to Piñon Project to be used for Christmas for Kids. (Photo courtesy of Kelli Hargraves)
Christmas for Kids served 190 families in 2022

After the pace of life has slowed down after the incessant hustle and bustle of the holiday season, Piñon Project Family Resource Center and United Way of Southwest Colorado celebrate the charitable giving they received during the holidays that allowed them to help families across the region.

Piñon Project’s assistant director, Kelli Hargraves, recounted their Christmas for Kids initiative that took place during December and noted how grateful she is that the community rallies around the families chosen by Piñon each year.

To be part of Christmas for Kids, families submit an application, and after it is reviewed by Piñon staff, the families are called to hear their stories and about their needs. Once families are chosen, they are picked by various sponsors, organizations or individuals who purchase gifts for the children for Christmas.

“They get a wish list and then they go purchase whatever they choose from that wish list and bring it back. Then we connect the gifts to the family,” Hargraves said.

Businesses in the area also hosted an Angel Tree, and each tree contained angels with an individual child and their wish list on it. From there, individuals could pick an angel and purchase gifts on their list.

Tamara Desrosiers places an ornament on the Angel Tree in The Journal’s lobby in this archived photo. Residents pick an angel off the tree to buy gifts for needy children in the area. (Journal file photo)

Hargraves also said Piñon has a North Pole shopping option for families. People donate money, toys, games, and more, and families in the program can stop by and “shop” for their family’s gifts there.

“We also received a very large donation from Walmart this year for shoes, clothes, jackets and more that helped support families in the North Pole,” she added.

This program, which has been running for around 15 years, is made possible by the generosity of the community even though Piñon is the organization that puts it on.

“It’s all based on the generosity of the community,” Hargraves said. “Some organizations deliver gifts and they have Santa Clauses. Some organizations host the family and have dinner with them and then give them their gifts … it’s really a phenomenal thing to get to be a part of because Piñon just coordinates it. The community steps up and they really do the work.”

In 2022, the Piñon Project’s Christmas for Kids served 190 families in total, which included 520 kids through 82 sponsors who donated a total of $7,458.

“What this means is 520 kids who wouldn’t have had a Christmas received Christmas,” Hargraves said.

In 2020, Piñon received $17,787 for Christmas for Kids and served 617 youths and 238 families through 148 sponsors. There were fewer donations in 2021, amounting to $11,898 in donations to serve 602 youths and 231 families.

Some of Piñon’s funding comes from United Way of Southwest Colorado, which is a local nonprofit “that works to improve people’s lives through education, health and financial stability work.”

Each year, United Way estimates they serve 21,000 people annually in Southwest Colorado through the organizations they partner with in five different counties. The 38 nonprofits they work with are selected by a committee of volunteers, and some of the nonprofits are Piñon Project, Habitat for Humanity in LaPlata County, Manna Soup Kitchen, Montelores Early Childhood Council and more.

While United Way doesn’t do many direct programs itself, they raise funds and distribute to the nonprofits in their care to ensure they get what they need.

In 2020, United Way raised $119,000 to be distributed to various nonprofits. Although that number has dropped slightly in recent years, $116,000 in 2021 and $92,000 in 2022, United Way president Lynn Urban remains positive about the amounts they are seeing from donors.

“We might be down a little, but we did have some donors give earlier in the fall that we did not count here. That said, we could certainly use more support before our fiscal year ends June 30,” she noted.

Urban said one way they raise funds is by partnering with businesses in the area, and an example is when they partnered with Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. “We helped them sell their excess chocolate, and in return for that they gave us a donation that we used to help support a lot of different activities across all of Southwest Colorado,” she finished.