Community profile: ‘Care about the cause’ — Roaring Fork Valley’s Salvation Army director eager to beat last year’s fundraising record

Cristina Ruiz speaks during the Salvation Army Roaring Fork Valley Service Extension's Red Kettle Kickoff event in Glenwood Springs on Saturday.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Racks of used jackets sit near the front door. They’re smaller in size, mostly fit for women and children. Staff say men’s jackets are hard to come by at this point. 

Near these garments is a controlled clutter of holiday wreaths sprawled across a table and several Salvation Army red kettles standing tall.

In an adjacent office on this chilly Thursday afternoon is Cristina Ruiz, the newest director of the Salvation Army Roaring Fork Valley Service Extension. Ruiz, who took over for former director Karen Lee in July, was preparing for Saturday’s Red Kettle Kickoff.

This is of course a launch-off to seeing bundled-up volunteers ringing bells for donations in front of places like City Market and Walmart.

“Last year we raised $82,000,” Ruiz said. “I want to go at least 10% above that.” 

The local branch of the Salvation Army answers about 15-20 calls a day, with about another 8-10 people who walk through its doors most days. People seek shelter, jackets, food, money to pay bills, medicine.

“We do casework,” Ruiz said. “We just got somebody into rehab yesterday.”

Cristina Ruiz ushers in the Red Kettle Kickoff in Glenwood Springs on Saturday.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

The Red Kettle Drive is a major contributor to the entire yearly budget, and its success could be the difference between helping someone or turning them away.

“It’s painful to say, ‘No, I can’t help you,’” Ruiz said. “Sometimes we have to because we don’t have enough funding, or because we don’t have enough staff.”

This year the Salvation Army has secured more than 400 volunteers to ring bells at nine locations from Aspen to Parachute. After Saturday, they ring and ring until Christmas Eve or New Year’s, depending on the location. Ruiz said it’s kettle captains and support from local Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions and high school Key clubs who are behind drumming up so many volunteers.

Overseeing Saturday’s Red Kettle Kickoff for the first time is going to be great, Ruiz said. She was elated that Denver-based Intermountain Divisional Brass Band was coming to play for the event, held at the Glenwood Springs Branch Library. 

She also knows just how critical it is for these coming weeks to be successful. Numbers show COVID-19 years were especially tough, with the Roaring Fork Salvation Army aiding more than 3,000 people in 2020, and more than 2,000 in 2021.

“We were here weekends,” Ruiz said. “We were here late in the evening during that whole time.”

A red kettle on display during the Salvation Army Roaring Fork Valley Service Extension’s Red Kettle Kickoff event in Glenwood Springs on Saturday.
Ray Erku/Post Independent

Ruiz, 54, has a long, extensive background that prepared her for times like these. Ruiz moved from Chihuahua, Mexico to Colorado at age 7 and made her way to the Roaring Fork Valley in 1986. In 1989, she started working at a Latino Assistance Organization called Amnesty Health Services. She was also an interpreter at Mind Springs Health for five years and later interpreted for Glenwood Springs’ Pregnancy Resource Center. In May 2020, just as the pandemic began, Ruiz became an emergency social worker for the Salvation Army.

Kathy Wren, Ruiz’s colleague, tears up when she talks about Ruiz’s transition to the Salvation Army.

“She’s very compassionate,” she said. “She’s very caring.”

Wren started coming to the Glenwood Springs Salvation Army office in a volunteer capacity two years ago. It was then Wren started to realize just how much love Ruiz had for her fellow man, she said. 

“You care about the cause,” Wren would tell Ruiz. “You care about what goes on here.”

“A lot of people do things and it’s just a job. They just want their paycheck and go home. It’s not like that with her.”

Denver-based Intermountain Divisional Brass Band performs during a Salvation Army event in Glenwood Springs on Saturday.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Ruiz knows there’s still a lot of work ahead. Inflation is still detrimental to a majority working-class demographic, she said. 

“Everything’s gone up,” she said. “Rent is not affordable.”

For Ruiz, it’s all about mitigating life’s struggles, which is why the office keeps what’s called a gratitude jar. In that jar are notes of what people are grateful for.

When staff reads the notes, emotions rise, but it’s a reminder that that made a difference, or what Ruiz likes to call, “something transformative.”

“Everyone takes turns reading one,” she said. “We just cry. We just cry because we remember.”


These are total donations collected in 2021 by Salvation Army Red Kettle bell ringers at locations Up and Down valley

  • Carbondale City Market: $5,273
  • El Jebel City Market: $22,487
  • Glenwood Springs City Market: $14,747
  • Glenwood Spring Walmart: $20,140
  • New Castle City Market: $4,123
  • Rifle City Market: $3,685
  • Rifle Walmart: $6,502
  • Aspen City Market: $271

Other sources

  • Other-electronic: $1,718
  • Web income: $1,399
  • Snowmass Village Clark’s Market: $1,339
More Like This, Tap A Topic

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.