In 2008, dismayed by the state of the economy and how it was affecting workers, families and children in Summit County, Rotarian Deborah Hage approached Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church, Summit County Elks Lodge 2561 and Rotary Club of Summit County to form a partnership to provide a weekly, free community dinner to any and all comers.  Don Parsons, Judi LaPoint, and other Rotarians began organizing.  Startup funds were provided by a District Simplified Grant with District 5450 matching $4000 of Summit County Rotary’s contribution of $4000.  That resulting $8000 allowed the initial food and supplies to be purchased.  It also allowed for money to be paid to the Elks Lodge for the weekly use of the facility, permanent food storage, walk in refrigerator space, ovens, dishwashers, cleaning, etc.  The first dinner was March 3, 2009.  50 people were served a free, hot nutritious dinner prepared by Rotarians Al and Liz Wickert.
In the first year, from March 3, 2009 – March 2, 2010, 11,727 meals were served, including 3,672 to children.  From March 3, 2009 – March 3, 2021 171,000 meals served, 26,000 served to children.  Currently 200 – 300 meals are served each Tuesday.  The meal consists of a main course, fresh salad, fresh fruit, bread, vegetable and dessert.  Different chefs from local restaurants and resorts often provide the meal, however 80% of the meals are prepared by a committed group of 8 – 10 volunteers who come every week to cook.  Meal planning is done by Bob Knorr, the Elks Lodge kitchen manager, who looks at what has been donated and purchased from Food Bank of the Rockies, and plans the meals around what is in the freezer and pantry.  Sue and Bob Peterson organize everything else to keep the dinner going each week.  Food rescue and delivery is done by a team of 8 people on a rotating basis.  Volunteers from various schools, churches, businesses and other groups sign up months in advance to serve and clean up each week.  Over 6000 hours are donated a year, involving hundreds of different people.  Students often choose to come and put in their required hours of community service for their school project.  People who are court ordered to do community service find serving the community they have harmed is a way to make restitution meaningful.  
In kind donations are much appreciated and ease the monetary strain.  Waste Management of the Rockies donates single stream recycling services. Orowheat/Bimbo Bakeries continue to donate all of the bread and desserts.   Target contributes salad, fruit, milk, cheese, meat and other food items as available every week.  Copper Mountain, Vail Resorts, Arapahoe Basin, Dillon Dam Brewery and numerous other restaurants and chefs, occasionally donate both the food and/or the preparation of the meal.  Bread, desserts, meat, vegetables, milk, yogurt….it is never known from week to week what will be donated so menu is sometimes difficult.  There is a limited budget to purchase what is needed to round out a meal so the meals are primarily created by using donations.  Staples are primarily donated by Target and purchased from Food Bank of the Rockies.  Volunteers creating a dinner for 300 from donations make Ironman Chef a piece of cake!
December 13, 2011 Summit County Rotarians served a record high number of people – 557!  The delicious meal of chicken cacciatore, pasta, fresh salad and mixed vegetables was donated by one of the Rotarians instrumental in starting the dinner, Chef Bill Gilchrist. 
Funding flows in from individuals, churches, businesses, towns and foundation grants in Summit County.  $35,000 is required each year to run the dinners and residents of Summit County are generous!  About 10% of the funding comes from recipients who donate at the door when they arrive.  Some give a little, others give a lot.  It does not matter.  There is a unified support and pride in what, together, as a community Summit County is able to provide to those with few financial resources among us.  Summit county individuals, governments, restaurants, resorts, service organizations and churches have together dedicated themselves to being a model for the entire nation of what it looks like to have a philosophy of abundance, rather then a fear of scarcity.  When $7000 was needed to replace the aging convection ovens a donor quickly came forward.  Generous individuals have purchased the vacuum cleaners, the commercial coffee maker, the steam table, prep tables and the freezers.  As funds are needed to upgrade the fire suppression system, repair the plumbing, rewire the electric outlets people come forward to make sure it gets done.
The participants continue to primarily come from the service sector, those who are employed at minimum wage jobs.  Typically, 15% - 20% are resort workers.  Most work 40 hrs a week and do not generate enough income to make ends meet.  Even in the winter at 10,000 feet there are those, many working poor, who are camping in the woods or in their barely drivable cars.  Others are “sofa surfers”, sleeping on someone’s sofa until they wear out their welcome and move on to someone else’s sofa.  Many have no way to prepare a meal so subsist on what they can eat cold from a can or jar.  Most of our diners are knows as the “working poor”.  Some arrive when the doors open, eat a robust dinner, wait until the doors are about to close and then eat again!  It is not uncommon for a diner to comment that the only time they get meat or fresh fruit or salad is on Tuesday night.  They are surprised to find we are not a “soup kitchen” but serve full, restaurant style meals, however in larger restaurant portions as seconds and thirds are always available. 
Years later the same objective remains: to provide a meal that welcomes everyone, regardless of need.  The focus is on those struggling financially, the underemployed, unemployed, and /or homeless men, women and children.  Most of our participants are the working poor, however, all are welcome.  There is no means test.  
What everyone receives when the doors open every Tuesday at 5 pm is food and a whole lot more!  Physical hunger is a reality but the dinners serve more then the stomach.  A sense of community, an alleviation of loneliness, an antidote to the fatigue of working more then one job, family time for parents who don’t have to rush around after work……it all comes together at the Elks Lodge.  The smells from the kitchen radiate out into the street.  The warmth of the old log dining room welcomes people in from the cold.  Every guest is greeted.  Seconds and thirds are encouraged for those recovering from days of little food.  Excess food donated is put out on tables for participants to take home.

Participation in the dinners, from donors, to food preparers, to serving volunteers, to restaurants, to churches, to participants makes the weekly Community Dinner a truly community event, involving people from all walks of life.  Rotary Club of Summit County is proud of its weekly contribution to the lives of those in need in Summit County and members consider it one of their proudest achievements.
To donate send checks to Rotary Club of Summit County Foundation
PO Box 4401, Frisco, CO 80443
Please put Community Dinner on memo line
To Volunteer or donate food, contact Sue Peterson,
Click to View Photos from Community Dinner!