Cooking up Christmas spirit: Volunteers in Rifle give away holiday meal kits |

Cooking up Christmas spirit: Volunteers in Rifle give away holiday meal kits

Parachute resident Angelique Braatz receives a meal kit in Rifle on Dec. 22.
Ray K. Erku/Citizen Telegram

Parachute resident Angelique Braatz pulled up beside a group of bundled-up folks braving freezing temperatures in the Rifle Metro Pool parking lot Wednesday morning. With her two young boys in the back, like clockwork, volunteers began offering her enough food to sustain her family through the holidays.

Potatoes, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cinnamon rolls, French onions, gravy mix, a pound of butter, a holiday ham and recipes to make dishes like scalloped potatoes, cheddar bay biscuits and creamed corn piled up in her front seat.

It was just after 10:20 a.m., and Braatz was so far about the 30th person to receive one of many free holiday meal kits offered through community volunteerism. This included an assortment of Rifle Parks and Recreation workers, police officers and local bankers, among others.

Throughout fall, people could submit nominations to the city on who they think would benefit from receiving a meal kit toward Christmas time.

Braatz, a former fast-food employee who got injured on the job in 2019, was one nominee.

Rifle Parks and Recreation manager Austin Rickstrew carries holiday hams in Rifle on Dec. 22.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

“I got a phone call last week, and somebody nominated me for a basket, and I began crying in the middle of Walmart,” Braatz said. “It’s definitely a major blessing.”

While recovering from surgery, Braatz said she caught COVID-19 twice and couldn’t go back to work.

“It was one thing after another,” she said. “Our family literally could not come back from medical issues. On top of that, the mental health in this valley has been a mess.”

Just minutes prior to Braatz’s appearance, Amber Choma, a disabled single mother from New Castle, pulled up in the parking lot to receive a meal kit.

“This will definitely help,” she said. “It’s just my daughter and myself.”

Rifle Parks and Recreation manager Austin Rickstrew, who was instrumental in facilitating this second-annual meal kit opportunity, said this year has seen an increase in nominations and family selections.

Alpine Bank Rifle Branch Vice President Larry Stewart organizes meal kits in Rifle on Dec. 22.
Ray K. Erku/Citizen Telegram

In 2020, Rifle received 120 nominations and provided 60 meal kits. In 2021, the city accepted 160 nominations and provided 80 meal kits.

“There is a need for food in our community, and there’s a group of people here who aren’t being served,” Rickstrew said as he organized groceries for the next recipient in the parking lot. “We make sure they have enough for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Every kit has about $75 worth of food in it. We pack it full.”

The majority of costs were covered by local Garfield County businesses, while essentially every department in Rifle helped collect and package the food, Rickstrew said.

Alpine Bank Rifle Branch Vice President Larry Stewart, his head snug in a winter hat as he organized kits, expressed appreciation for participating in philanthropic events like this.

“I think it’s just what we do. We’re a big supporter of the community” he said. “We’re more than just a bank.”

A collection of holiday hams set be given to those in need in Rifle on Dec. 22.
Ray K. Erku/Citizen Telegram

Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or

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