Illustration by Ryan Johnson9 reasons to love Denver in 2021
Local heroes found ways to help in a difficult year.
• July 1, 2021
1. Because comedian Adam Cayton-Holland opened his wallet.
If All the President’s Men taught us anything, it is that you must follow money to learn the truth. If you applied that journalistic maxim to my bank account last year, a reporter would learn a lot more than he got in. (I’m kidding! Kind of.) While it was actually bad for most of the stand-up comics during the pandemic, I was so flushed that I donated to some of my favorite Denver businesses – and therein lies the evidence. Do you want to know what I love about this city? Follow my money.
The Clyfford Still Museum is my favorite art museum in town; the Nob Hill Inn is my second. So of course I had to contribute to GoFundMe last July. Every time I step down the street in that tiny jump from the Capitol, I get drunk enough to try and buy the paintings off the walls. This terrifying clown portrait, the cityscape with the cathedral – how is it that a hole in the wall has such incredible original works of art? Nobody knows; It’s one of those big Denver secrets, like the ghosts of Cheesman Park or why we still drink Coors.
I bought a $ 10 donation takeaway popcorn pack at the Bug Theater last September because the place is an eclectic middle finger to the slot home monstrosities that surround it. It’s also an important sounding board for weird artists like me. In times of no pandemic, my friends and I would host a monthly comedy show there called The Grawlix. But my first time in the Bug was when I was 19 years old when I saw David Sedaris’s SantaLand Diaries.
When I saw the fundraising campaign “Save the world-famous lions’ den” in December, the money flew from my account. In a sea of depots on the roof of Chad, the hiding place exudes Colfax character – and yes, “oozes” is just the right verb. I shouldn’t tell you why.
Then there is the Buntport Theater, a Denver institution that has been producing original plays for 18 years. It’s a source of creativity, which is why it’s no surprise the theater staged several quirky pandemic productions, including one that my wife and I streamed on a January evening for a $ 20 donation. Money. Well. Consumed.
If you dig deeper, you would find even more “donations” in the form of credit card receipts for chili rellenos from the La Pasadita Inn and an unneeded T-shirt from Wax Trax. Debt is damned. I’ve spent my money the way I like to spend my time: helping independent businesses that remind me of the Denver I grew up in, before the mixed-use condos and e-scooters, a place nobody knew what John Elway’s policy was, where anything seemed possible – except maybe a pandemic. —Adam Cayton-Holland
2. Because Nick Muerdter is a miracle worker.
It didn’t take long for Nick Muerdter’s work to go viral. “The first day I posted it, Governor [Jared] Polis has shared it with all of his Facebook followers, ”says Muerdter of Vaccine Spotter, a database he created to make it easier for Coloradans to find vaccine appointments. “People seemed desperate for this type of tool.” The 34-year-old software engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden started the project in early February after colleagues told him how difficult it was to find your way around pharmacies to get their parents vaccinated. So he spent his free time developing bots that could search the websites of large pharmacy companies (King Soopers, Walgreens, CVS) for available time slots and place them all in one place. The positive response to his work prompted Muerdter to repeat the process for each federal state. Maintaining the ubiquitous resource became a second full-time occupation for him, but the feedback he got was well worth it. “One woman said she found 400 places for residents in one day,” says Muerdter. At the time of going to press, he planned to keep the site going while it was still saving lives. —Shane Monaghan
3. Because Denverites stepped on the (dinner) plate.
To help the nearly two in five Coloradans who suffer from food insecurity – a problem made worse by COVID-19 – these organizations keep bellies and pantries in stock in Mile High City and beyond. —Patricia Kaowthumrong
Eli Zain (center), founder of Denver Community Fridges, poses with artists Jenn Guelich (left) and Ruth Rivera Odeja (far right) next to the fridge they painted in front of the Mutiny Information Cafe. Photo by Eli Zain
The organization: Seven-month-old Denver Community Fridges operates voluntarily stocked refrigerators that have been planted in eight locations across Denver.
The mission: Expand access to prepackaged meals, fresh produce, dairy products, and other essential foods.
The impact: Anyone can pick goods from refrigerators in Sunnyside, Globeville, Berkeley, RiNo, Baker, East Colfax and Curtis Park.
The organization: The non-profit food truck Kitchen One for One made its debut in November 2020 with its Taco Night. The program serves free tacos with fiery green chilli chicken, braised carnitas and other goodies at changing locations.
The mission: Serve restaurant-quality meals to hungry Coloradans on the Front Range.
The impact: The outfit delivers between 400 and 1,200 meals a week, while each Taco Night serves around 200 plates across the subway area.
The organization: Re: Vision, a nonprofit that has been cultivating food systems in marginalized neighborhoods via backyard gardens, urban farms, and food distribution programs since 2007, launched Emergency
Meal package and free food programs at the start of the pandemic.
The mission: Deliver nutritious food to Denver’s food deserts.
The impact: From March 2020 to May 2021, Re: Vision volunteers distributed more than 743,000 pounds of food and served 10,296 people.
The organization: Project Angel Heart, a 30-year-old nonprofit that provides medically-tailored meals to people with life-threatening diseases, expanded its services to people diagnosed with COVID-19.
The mission: Offer healthy meals to immunocompromised people.
The impact: Each week, over 10,000 chef-prepared dishes are delivered to 1,416 people in the Denver and Colorado Springs areas.
Patricia Kaowthumrong, food editor
Patricia joined the 5280 staff in July 2019 and is excited to oversee all of 5280 magazine’s coverage of restaurants. Follow her culinary adventures on Instagram @whatispattyeating.
Shane Monaghan, Digital Associate Editor
Shane writes and edits stories for 5280.com and maintains 5280’s daily newsletter, The Local.