GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - Five nights a week, 52 weeks a year, if you're down on your luck, cold and hungry, there's a place here where you can go.
It's called the Extended Table, an offshoot of the LIFT-UP organization that annually hands out food, clothing and other necessities to the needy.
By LIFT-UP 's own estimates, the Extended Table serves some 1,300 meals a month, according to the organization's website.
By the organizational paperwork that volunteers can show to an inquisitive reporter, anywhere from 40-80 people a night show up between 5 and 6 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church on Cooper Avenue in downtown Glenwood.
But the Extended Table actually is more a function of the good will of the community at large than a program of any one organization.
"It has become what I call the epitome of volunteerism," said Mike Powell, executive director of LIFT-UP since 2002.
Started in 1995 by Steve Carcaterra, Powell's predecessor, and Steve's wife, Rachael, the Extended Table in some ways is as loosely organized as a labor-intensive endeavor can be.
Between 15 and 20 local churches and organizations sign up for a certain day of the week, or a certain day of the month, and that is their day to serve meals at the church.
The volunteers prepare the meals and then come to the church and serve the food up to those who come through the door, no questions asked.
Then they clean up, close down the kitchen and go home.
LIFT-UP, according to Powell, provides some of the supplies, such as plates and flatware, condiments and napkins, but beyond that it is all from the volunteers themselves, their organization or their church.
Jamie Darien of Glenwood Springs has been serving at the Extended Table for the past year or so.
Darien recently retired after 32 years as a special education teacher at Glenwood Springs Elementary School.
"I always, always wanted to do Extended Table," she said on Dec. 17, as she worked in the newly renovated kitchen at the Methodist Church. "I just didn't know how to get started."
But one day Father Michael Ingersoll, priest at the First United Church, suggested she get involved, and she said it was like a moment of religious revelation.
"Angels in the background ... Hallelujah, Hallelujah, that sort of thing," she recalled, smiling at the memory.
She ultimately became coordinator of the volunteers for the nights that the church is in charge of the kitchen, which is every Thursday.
"It's really a simple, easy, nonthreatening, non-financial way to make a big difference," she said of the Extended Table, as she watched meals being served up from the counter separating the kitchen from the dining room.
"It makes a huge difference, when you look them in the eye, the people who are eating here, it's not out of pity, it's just one person looking another person in the eye. The only thing that separates me and what's happened in their lives is this counter. When you think about it, I could be there any day."
Father Michael Ingersoll said the organizational effort behind the Extended Table is more of a word-of-mouth phenomenon, handled by volunteers within each organization, or church group, and that the soup kitchen was a deeply ingrained local institution by the time he came to Glenwood nearly four years ago.
"This is one of the things that they were very proud of, the Extended Table, that it was housed here," he said of the congregation.
But, he continued, the First United Church was not actually serving up meals until another group bowed out and he grabbed their night.
And that's how it happens often, said Powell, noting that there is always a waiting list of organizations and churches ready to step in and take over if a night opens up.
As for the clientele, many are part of the valley's homeless population, although more and more are simply hungry and out of work residents who need help making it through the recession.
"We're seeing more folks that aren't homeless," noted Powell. "But if things don't turn around soon, they might be."
With six years of Extended Table service under her belt, Lynette Brickell of Glenwood Springs can look back on the days when the usual number of recipients was between 35 and 40.
"Now, it's about 80," she said on a recent night. "I think it's doubled ... in the last year."
The growth in numbers has meant the volunteers have run out of food, though it happens very seldom, Brickell said, and now they are careful about letting people have seconds.
"We usually don't do the second round until we make sure everybody gets in on the first round," she said, explaining that seconds typically are not handed out until around 5:30.
On Dec. 21, there were nearly 20 people working in the kitchen, because a dozen young members of the St. Stephen's Catholic Church confirmation class were on hand.
Sarah Rippy said she and her fellow class members had helped to cook the food earlier in the day, and now were helping to serve it up.
She said she has done it before, "a couple of years ago," and added after a slightly embarrassed silence, "I probably should do it more often; that does sound really bad, doesn't it?"
Another youngster, 14-year-old Jason Wainwright, was helping to serve meals one night because a judge told him to after he "got in trouble."
He mainly washes dishes, and said, "It's fun, actually. I kind of like it. You can get to know a lot of people."
He is not a member of any church, he said, but added, "I'm just doing my part. I mean, I like to do it, I like giving."
Although a lot of the volunteers work the Extended Table as part of one church group or another, Powell said, "It's not just the churches."
He said other community organizations and institutions, such as area Rotary Clubs, or Valley View Hospital, also pitch in regularly.
And when the servers are from a church, he said, "It's a mission to them, like it is to us," but there is no evangelizing or proselytizing going on.
"It's not about getting any faith or message out, it's about feeding people," he said, recalling that one church group wanted to distribute religious tracts along with the food.
"We said, nope, that's not what we do, that's not what we're here for," he remembered, adding that the group in question was surprised, but did not press the point.
At the tables, men outnumber women by a wide margin, and most appear to have seen a good many tough years.
A 61-year old man called "Silver" said he suffers from a disability, an artificial hip that needs to be replaced and prevents him from getting a job.
"I've asked and asked and asked for help, because it was an act of violence years ago [that injured his hip], and now I can't get insurance, couldn't get it then, and now it needs to be worked on. If I could get it fixed, then my legs'd be the same length and I could go back to work."
A resident of the valley since 1994, he said he is a painter by trade, but has done everything from driving a milk truck to making a living as a pool player.
"And now it's hard to not be able to do one-tenth of what I used to be able to do," he continued.
Looking around, he said he recognized a number of faces and mused, "If it wasn't for this, there'd be a lot of people going hungry. They're the same people that come over to the homeless shelter, because they don't have anyplace else to go. They're just stuck. Most of them, I know, would love to get back to work."
Bill, 68, who declined to give his last name, has been summering in the area for a number of years and is now trying to make it through his first winter here.
"I don't think I could make ends meet without it," he said of the Extended Table, explaining that he has a small income from a pension and social security.
But much of that goes to $1,350 in rent for an apartment where he provides a roof for a couple of homeless guys who can't get work and have no money.
"In order to accomplish that, I eat at the soup kitchen," he said. "It's really handy for not just me, but the other guys, too."
Bill said he eats at the Extended Table between two and five nights a week, and that he plans to start looking for work soon.
"Maybe by this time next year, I'll have a job," he remarked hopefully.