When Steamboat businesses closed down back in March, Snow Bowl stepped up and continued to work, but not in the way you might think. When the organization closed its doors, staff members and volunteers got to work to provide daily meals for those in need within our community.
With a refrigerator full of food that couldn’t be used and a clear need due to layoffs from business closures in town, head chef, Pete List, suggested that Snow Bowl figure out a way to give away all of that food, rather than simply throw it out. Initially, the idea was to provide meals to those who worked in the hospitality industry, but that quickly turned into a much larger need. Thus, the creation of the program, Family Bowl.
To hear more about Family Bowl and all of the great things Snow Bowl is doing to help the Steamboat Springs community, we caught up with Meryl Meranski, one of the owners of Snow Bowl, and Corey Wagner, Executive VP of Western Centers, Inc, the Meranski family business.
How does the Family Bowl program work?
Every day, we prepare around 250 complete meals that are hot and ready to eat, and we serve daily from 5 to 7 pm. No need to heat anything up or do any prep work and every meal is complete and nutritious – sometimes, there’s even dessert included! We know it’s a tough time for many people right now, so we’re trying to make it as easy as possible. There are two meals per box, and a family can take as many boxes as they need, depending on the size of the group. We believe we’re seeing the best in people, and anyone that walks up, we’re trusting they aren’t trying to take advantage of the program.
How has Family Bowl evolved since the beginning of the program?
When we first started, we were giving out about 100 meals per day. With the Go Fund Me donations, food donations from other restaurants, and businesses sponsoring meals, we’ve been able to raise over $37,000 and provide more than 16,000 free meals so far. What started out as a small idea has really turned into an amazing support of our local community.
Who are the great people working behind the scenes to keep Family Bowl going?
Similarly to many businesses in town, we had to make some very difficult decisions and lay off some of our employees until we can operate in a for-profit manner again. Three of our staff members stepped up and are volunteering their time to keep this program alive. Our head chef, plus three additional volunteers are in the kitchen every day, with the help of management as well.
How are you able to financially keep Family Bowl running?
Aside from the Go Fund Me donations from folks in the community, we had several restaurants who donated food when they had to close – restaurants getting rid of pasta, dairy, and vegetables. We are still getting some of that today, but we are mostly keeping the program alive through monetary donations on the Go Fund Me page. We also have a nightly sponsorship program, so businesses in town can sponsor a meal on a given night by donating funds to provide the meals that evening or by providing food themselves.
Tell us more about these sponsorship nights or how businesses can help get involved?
We’re so thankful for the businesses that have helped us thus far to continue Family Bowl. We’ve had meals on a single night sponsored by donations from local businesses including, Alpine Bank, Central Park Management, Steamboat Roofing Company, and more, and we’ve had donations from local families as well. One of our really successful nights was when Soda Creek Pizza was the sponsor for daily meals one evening, providing 450 meals in pizza. That was fantastic!
What have been some of the challenges of the program?
The volatility of the day-to-day has been tough. We go from one night serving 200 meals to an evening like the Soda Creek Pizza night when we served more than 400 meals. That makes it a bit harder to plan. But if you show up between the hours of 5 and 7 pm while we’re serving, we will hand out meals until we run out. We’ll even try to throw something together for you if we run out before 7 pm. In the last two months, we’ve hardly had to turn anyone away, which is great.
How long do you foresee Family Bowl continuing?
We will continue as long as we can. As guidelines change at the state and city level, the conversation has shifted to how do we reopen Snow Bowl in some capacity as a for-profit business while still serving the needs of the community. Family Bowl might operate out of a different facility when Snow Bowl reopens, or maybe we will have the opportunity to partner with another organization. Even as the state provides guidance for reopening our business, it won’t be to the level that it was before, so we’re hopeful that we will find a way to continue the program as long as there is a need for it.
What have been some of the best parts of the experience with Family Bowl?
This time has been new and different for everyone, so to be able to provide a little bit of light in someone’s day, see their smiles, and see their faces light up knowing they can go home and enjoy an excellent meal; to be able to give back to our community in that way has been so special. We’ve even decorated the kitchen with some of the notes from families and kids who wanted to express their gratitude, which reminds us daily how important this program is. Also, the support from the community really has kept this alive. If we had only hit our Go Fund Me goal of $2000, Family Bowl would have sadly ended a long time ago. We couldn’t be more appreciative of the people and businesses in the community who have helped keep this going and gotten this program so far.
Daily menus and up-to-date information for Family Bowl can be found on Snow Bowl’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SnowBowlSteamboat/
To donate to the Family Bowl Go Fund Me page: https://bit.ly/2TpJxYj