High Country Auxiliary serves nearly 300 at Community Center

Annual chili dinner gets good reviews in new venue

By Patty Unruh

High Country Auxiliary volunteers were in a flurry of activity March 2 preparing for and performing their annual fund-raising chili dinner and silent auction. This much-anticipated event held an added measure of excitement this year, as it was held in a new location – the Gilpin County Community Center. The dinner and auction were held to benefit firefighters from the Timberline Fire Protection District and GCART, the Gilpin County Animal Response Team. About 300 people enjoyed four savory varieties of chili and had the opportunity to bid on hundreds of goods and services in the silent auction.

An important focus for both the volunteer groups and Community Center staff was the opportunity to reach out to the community more effectively by working together. Folks from the Center, the Auxiliary, and GCART all agreed that their mutual cooperation benefitted all of them as well as the community at large.

At the entrance to the Center, ATV’s were displayed that the Auxiliary had purchased for firefighters’ rescue work. Inside, a buffet line, tables and chairs for dining, and the auction area were all set up in the gym. Cheery chili pepper lights and table runners provided a warm ambiance. Red, green, white (chicken), and vegetarian chili were offered, as well as coleslaw, cornbread, tortillas, beverages, and ice cream. Folks could embellish their steaming bowls with onions, grated cheese, hot sauce, and crackers. Auxiliary members Kay Johnson, Kaye Kayser, and Jeff Pettus were in charge of the food, which was prepared in advance with some last-minute cooking in the upstairs kitchen. All food was taken down to the gym in the Center’s elevator.

Auxiliary volunteer Diane Rittenhouse explained the reason for the change of location. “When we have had it at Station 2 in the past, we have had 175 to 200 people. The space was very crowded and parking a problem as the event has grown.” The Auxiliary prepared food for 300 people this year, which sounds like a lot, but it wasn’t a bowlful too much. Latecomers found slim pickings in the food line.

Rittenhouse advised that the chili dinner and auction is a very labor-intensive event, and preparation began shortly after the first of the year. Thirty-four volunteers were assigned to set up, clean up, do cashier work, give out auction bid numbers, and sell reflective address signs. Many workers were also needed to set up the silent auction, tally the bid sheets, act as cashiers, and gather items for winning bidders. Rittenhouse acknowledged that firefighters helped when heavy lifting needed to be done during set up and clean up. Auxiliary treasurer Wanda Sundquist said, “We’ve got the cooking down to a science, with standard recipes that we use each year.” She gave credit to Rittenhouse and volunteer Roxie Morris as “the ramrods behind it [the event].”

This year’s event also saw a record number of donations from area merchants and individuals for the silent auction. Three hundred items enticed bidders to go for broke on various goods and services. Hand-thrown bowls, handmade quilts and a Mennonite-crafted quilting frame, high altitude cookbooks, cookware, hand-woven alpaca scarves and hats, books on Gilpin and Colorado history, a 20-pound propane cylinder, and scores of other items drew bids and admiring comments. Folks could also try for a one-night stay for two at the Ameristar, clinical massage therapy, Loveland Ski Area passes, Rockies tickets, Last Shot dining certificates, one hour of storytelling, a Colorado Railroad Museum family four-pack, a gift certificate at the Business Connection in Nederland, veterinarian services, and much more.

Two Timberline cadets manned an information booth near the auction area. “You have to be 16 to18 years old to be a cadet,” they advised. “We go to high school here and are training to become firefighters.” The young men handed out Timberline Fire Protection District volunteer applications and were rewarded when some folks showed interest in joining. They also distributed information sheets on Gilpin’s emergency notification system and other brochures.

Heather Hart of GCART was on hand to provide information on that emergency response group. The Auxiliary helps them purchase equipment, pet supplies, and incidentals, and provides lunches for training sessions and during emergency situations. One of GCART’s main purposes is to assist firefighters in evacuation of large stock animals and smaller companion animals in case of wild fires or other disasters.

Reflective address signs were available for 15 dollars. Fire chief Chris Jennings encouraged folks to get them. He said, “Reflective signs will help the fire department, law enforcement, and ambulance workers find addresses. It saves lives and saves time. It’s a small investment for a huge return.”

The Auxiliary volunteers stated that it’s been good for them to work with the Community Center. Sundquist said that they had simply outgrown the Station 2 location. She recalled that the first year they held the silent auction they had only 35 or 40 items. “As with everything,” she smiled, “it’s gotten out of hand.”

She added that the dinner and auction is “head and shoulders our best fund-raising event of the year.” Last year, she said, the Auxiliary cleared $5,100 on the auction. Other events the Auxiliary will work on this year include Gilpin’s flea market in June and the County Fair pancake breakfast in August.

The Auxiliary is an independent all-volunteer organization that provides meals and gear to the emergency organizations. The group uses money it raises to feed emergency responders on scene and during trainings and also uses funds to buy equipment and gear those workers need.

Kathi Lambert, director of the Community Center, was pleased to have the Auxiliary this year. “Our goal is to get the word out in the community that we welcome the public and organizations to book their events here. We want people who have never been to the Community Center to come and see what we are about and what is available.” She noted that during 2013, the Peak to Peak Chorale will perform its dinner theater event at the Center, and vendors will likely be in the gym during the county fair in August. Lambert hopes the Center will become the hub of the community. The Center’s many services include a hiking trail, pottery studio, meeting and party rooms, lap pool and activity pool, game room, cardio equipment, fitness classes, aquatics programs, leagues, and sports.

Chief Jennings extended thanks to the Auxiliary workers for their support of the volunteer firefighters. He informed the crowd that would cost $50,000 to $60,000 per year to pay a salaried firefighter, and that volunteer firefighters help a great deal in saving money and taxes. He also expressed gratitude to the Community Center for providing the venue for the dinner and auction.

The Auxiliary received many compliments about the new location. Gigi Lamont, who brought her family from Highlands Ranch, has been coming for five years. “I’m a potter, and I donated some of my pottery. It’s a good cause, good chili and cornbread. There’s good parking and a place to spread out. It’s going to grow and grow.” Ana Buckman-Hart noted, “It’s my first time to come, and I’m so excited. It’s a great meal. I loved the silent auction.”

Volunteers were also enjoying themselves in the midst of the busyness. Auxiliary member Beth Gorman advised that she began helping with the Auxiliary for last year’s chili dinner. “I came in the morning this year and did chili prep. I was also an auction runner; I tallied and gathered up the auction sheets.” Gorman marveled at the way everything was “so organized.” When all is cleaned up and put away, it is ready to get out for the next year.

The firefighters and the Auxiliary feel that this may be a tough fire season once again. More help is welcomed for both organizations. We in Gilpin County can appreciate these folks who give of themselves to help protect us and make our community a better place in which to live.

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