“It’s wonderful to see how far a good deed can go. We continue to be filled with gratitude,” Meryl Meranski, Owner, Snow Bowl Steamboat – the 2021 Business Philanthropist of the Year.
Meryl Meranski has a big spot in her heart for service work. After graduating from Chapman University in Peace Studies, her life led her down a path of service work that includes working with parents and children in Family Drug Courts, housing homeless families in metro-Denver, offering art education to low-income schools in Los Angeles and other non-profit endeavors. When she and her family purchased Snow Bowl in 2018, she couldn’t have known how well her passion for philanthropy would tie in with this new business venture.
After the Meranski’s purchased Snow Bowl, they began extensive renovations that lasted about a year until they opened for business in 2019 to great feedback and support from the local community. Just shy of their one-year anniversary, the pandemic hit. When the shutdown happened, there was about 2 weeks’ worth of food that was ultimately going to get thrown away. Rather than have it go to waste, they saw the need for feeding hospitality workers who had all of a sudden lost their jobs – ski area employees, hotel employees, restaurant employees, etc. They initially thought, “Let’s see what we can do for 2 weeks and how it goes.” They named their project “Family Bowl,” to reflect that the Yampa Valley Community is one big family and we take care of each other. They started giving out free dinners every night to anyone who came by, no questions asked. The response was immediate and enormous. Some families came every night. Some came once a week. Some came just to say thank you. But everyone was in it together, supporting each other. Many people didn’t even take food, they just drove through to tip the kitchen and staff. Their kitchen staff donated all of their time to prepare the nightly meals. Community members were eager to volunteer, and while the gesture was highly appreciated, Snow Bowl decided that due to COVID safety protocols, they kept the operation to 6-7 staff members only. If philanthropy is the act of showing love for your neighbor and extending a helping hand in any way you could, Family Bowl was a shining example of philanthropy in action.
After seeing the response to Family Bowl, a fundraising campaign began with an original goal of raising $2,000 – which they reached within the first couple days. They were flooded with phone calls from other restaurants to utilize their food so it wouldn’t go to waste and would help feed our community during a time of need. Donations came in from other area businesses to support their effort – Rex’s Family of Restaurants, Off the Beaten Path Bookstore, Moon Hill Dairy, 41North, Steamboat Meat & Seafood, Soda Creek Pizza, 8th Street Steakhouse, Powder Day Donuts, Dude & Dan’s, Sharon’s, Mahogany Grill, Hayden Fresh Farm, Hungry Dog, and Italco. Then local businesses and families stepped up to help keep Family Bowl going: Alpine Bank, Steamboat Storage, Talon Grips, Steamboat Church of Christ, Steamboat Motors, Colorado Group Realty, Ski Town Lyons Club, Kinzer Insurance Agency, Twin Enviro and many others made monetary contributions through the GoFundMe Page or paid for an entire night of community meals.
Steamboat Springs School District partnered with Family Bowl to hand out pre-bagged lunches, so that families with children who didn’t have lunch for the next day would be sure to eat lunch the next day as well.
Steamboat Resorts also reached out to Snow Bowl to say that they would like to mirror a free food service from their location as well. So, they partnered to provide meals for families without having to go to the west end if they lived on the mountain. Steamboat Resorts’ service was set at different hours, so people could get two meals a day if they needed to.
At its core, the true sense of community is about coming together to help out our neighbors. From the ski mountain to the restaurants, local businesses, and families- they all contributed toward one end goal. “Having grown up in Steamboat,” Meryl says, “it was humbling, heartwarming, and sometimes heart breaking. When things are going well, it can be hard to see past the bubble we are in. Our little idea of ‘let’s feed service industry employees for a couple weeks’ turned into 3 months of nightly meals provided to anyone in our community who needed one. It was a group effort among the entire community, and we are proud to have been a part of it.”
They received thank you notes, letters, drawings, stickers, even lottery tickets throughout the 3 months of Family Bowl. A whole wall at Snow Bowl is adorned with the notes of gratitude. “A big part that continued to motivate us all was seeing the kids that came through the Family Bowl line,” says Meryl. “Although it was originally geared towards the hospitality industry, I’m so glad we gave it the name Family Bowl because we saw so many families with kids that came through and their feeling their gratitude and big smiles would have been the only recognition we could have asked for.”
One of the thank you notes they received has a happy face drawn by a child – all 4 chefs who worked in the Family Bowl kitchen got that happy face and the number of meals that they served over the course of the Family Bowl program tattooed on their bodies! 21,698 meals, to be exact.
2020 was a rough year, but Snow Bowl stepped up for our community. They are now looking to the future and asking themselves how they can continue giving back to Steamboat so that we can retain the feeling of community and shared values. The owners are excited about exploring ways to keep the spirit behind what made Family Bowl such a success alive in the community, collaborating with other local organizations to help meet critical needs in our community.
Family Bowl has inspired new collaborations between service providers and nonprofits. They hosted Routt County United Way’s Thanksgiving Meal program, providing approximately 500 meals to families over the holiday. They did the same with the Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors for the Community Christmas Dinner and are currently partnering with Routt County Humane Society for “Dog Bowl,” which includes adoption events, service work, education and more.
The idea for Family Bowl is part of a larger vision of creating a community space for everyone in Steamboat. An unlikely and surprising twist on your traditional bowling alley.
“I’m fortunate to be able to work with a team that has the drive to provide something greater for the community. Family Bowl impacted so many more people than the original idea could have ever contemplated. We are proud, grateful, and looking forward to the future.”