All you “cayenne” eat at the annual HCA chili fundraiser!

Fire auxiliary raises funds for Timberline Fire and GCART

by Patty Unruh

The Gilpin County Community Center gym was jam packed last Saturday night, March 3, as more than 300 hungry guests lined up for bowls of mouth-watering chili and all the trimmings. It was time once again for the High Country Auxiliary’s (HCA) huge chili dinner and silent auction to raise money to help fund the Timberline Fire Protection District (TFPD) and Gilpin County Animal Response Team (GCART) volunteers.

At least 50 HCA members helped with the event, according to head coordinator and HCA President Susan Keim-Tamm. It’s the Auxiliary’s largest fundraising event each year.

About 20 volunteers helped with the chili dinner, chatting and joking with the guests who selected from red, green, veggie, or white varieties with several toppings. The volunteers prepared all of the chili themselves in the kitchen of the Last Shot restaurant, generously made available by owners Roy and Barb Stewart. HCA member and food coordinator Dorothy Sweet spent the past month baking 20 pans of cornbread for the occasion. Coleslaw, cookies, and beverages completed the meal. Folks started filing in at 5:00 p.m. and continued arriving or getting seconds even after the auction closed at 7:00 p.m.

30 or so HCA helpers worked the silent auction. Just like the cooks/servers, these folks donated many hours of their time and skills. They secured donations from businesses and individuals, reported auction organizer Linda Skeen, and spent hours cataloging over 340 items and 100 gift certificates. Starting at 9:00 a.m. the day of the event, they set up the item tables and placed the gift certificates out along the walls. That took three or four hours. Then the group returned about an hour before the doors opened and “hit the floor running,” said Skeen.

“The dedicated behind-the-auction scenes workers are amazing,” she marveled. “I had no idea how much pre-auction work is needed to make the silent auction the success it is.”

A new feature this year was “Buy It Now,” which was exactly what the name implied. A few items were marked as “Buy It Now,” and people could purchase those items immediately, without competing with other bidders. This proved popular. It wasn’t long after the auction started that these items began to move. Skeen said they were mostly bigger pieces, including an antelope head, a metal pitcher, photos of guns, and some “cat” themed products.

Two dozen firefighters under the direction of Assistant Fire Chief Chip Smith performed set-up on Friday before the event. On Saturday night, those volunteers helped in the serving line, did auction tallying and other functions, and performed the takedown.

Smith provided an update on TFPD activities. “We are currently doing a Firefighter 1 academy with 19 members. The Auxiliary is providing the lunches for our Saturday trainings. We are also conducting a mini-academy with 14 new members this weekend. Timberline is absolutely engaged with training these new people.”

He related that TFPD is focusing on applying for grants. “We need 14 sets of bunker gear at $3,800 per person. Our 19 Firefighter 1 people have personal protective equipment, but it is nearly stretched to the limits. The gear has a ten-year shelf life when it is used to go into burning buildings, and lots of our gear is at seven or eight years now.”

TFPD members hope to receive a grant in the range of $250,000 to $300,000 for the entire department, but if a grant is unsuccessful, the organization does have some money that it budgets for gear each year.

Smith’s attitude was positive. “This is the third year that we have been under budget. Our maintenance has never been better, we have lots of new recruits, our morale is terrific – it’s fun. We are getting to serious calls in record time and with excellent competence.”

TFPD responded to a record 750 calls during 2017, and Smith said they were about to head to their 100th call for 2018. “We already had a couple today,” he advised.

He was pleased with the show of community support. “Our community is very aware of the good work Timberline is doing, and they seem very happy with us. We hope we can maintain this level of quality service.”

HCA’s support of the volunteer firefighters and GCART workers over the past several years has helped sustain these important services. Its donations from 2008-2017 have totaled $141,623. Included in that amount are service awards, food for training sessions, training scholarships, jackets, smoke detector giveaways and children’s promotional items at the Gilpin County Fair, an ATV, GCART animal care equipment, Gilpin Ambulance Authority awards, mock disaster expenses, thermal imaging cameras, CO detectors, truck equipment, service dinners, an EMT class, and half of a radio tower project, among other items.

It takes several days to total the amount raised at the dinner and auction, but considering the $9 admission for adults and $4 for children, at least $2,500 was probably raised from just the meal alone, not counting the auction.

In addition to donating money from fundraisers, the Auxiliary also provides meals for emergency workers during incidents. HCA responded on February 4 at a rescue involving an injured skier on Rollins Pass. Another noteworthy service was when HCA served meals to GCART members while they took care of animals evacuated to Gilpin from the Cold Springs fire near Nederland in 2016.

Auxiliary auction workers gladly assisted those examining items during the fundraiser. Folks were asked to stay until the end of the auction to collect their winnings, and extra cashiers were added this year to expedite the end of the auction. If anyone was not present, the second highest bidder might have an opportunity to claim the item.

Articles included exotic jewelry, mountain lodge quilt, Galileo thermometer, Himalayan salt lamp, artwork, ski boots, stuffed animals, bird baths, sassafras wood lamp, historical map of Colorado Territory, a private permit to carry course for up to 5 people, hydraulic trolley jack, pocket knives, wall vases, dishware, and lots more. Gift certificates for services were available to Gilpin Car Wash, Mountain People’s Co-op, Stage Stop, Ermel’s Emporium, Taggert’s, Roy’s Last Shot, Gilpin County Public Works, Peak to Peak Imports, Brightwood Music, and Gilpin Parks and Rec, among many others.

Sgt. Kevin Armstrong of the Gilpin County Sheriff’s Office kept the auction running on time as he gave a heads-up every few minutes before closing and counted down the final seconds. Folks did not have long to wait before the first items were tallied; Armstrong began calling out winning numbers less than 20 minutes after the auction closed. New, attractively printed signs directed people where to pay and retrieve their treasures.

Although the event was a great success as usual, it didn’t seem quite the same to many of the volunteers and guests, who deeply felt the absence of longtime HCA event coordinator Diane Rittenhouse. She passed away in May 2017, and her calm, cheerful presence was truly missed. “She was a special person … the real deal … genuine,” noted her many friends.

Volunteers were, however, encouraged by the supportive gathering. HCA volunteer Janie Ikeler said, “I heard comments about our supportive community from new recruits who had served in other locales. They’d never seen anything like the warmth of the Gilpin community or this large turnout.”

The warm regard was mutual. A welcome sign at the front of the food line read: “To our extended community – thank you for your many donations and continued support of our volunteer fire department. Our heartfelt thanks and love. High Country Auxiliary.”

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