1. Because comic Adam Cayton-Holland opened his wallet.

If All the President’s Men taught us anything, it’s that to get to the truth, you must follow the money. Were one to apply that journalistic maxim to my bank account over this past year, a reporter would learn far more went out than went in. (I kid! Sort of.) While things were indeed dire for most stand-up comics during the pandemic, I was flush enough to donate to some of my favorite struggling Denver businesses—and therein lies the evidence. You want to know what I love about this city? Follow my money.

The Clyfford Still Museum is my favorite art museum in the city; the Nob Hill Inn is my second. So, of course, I had to contribute to its GoFundMe last July. Every time I’m in that tiny dive down the street from the Capitol, I get drunk enough to try to buy the paintings off the walls. That terrifying clown portrait, the cityscape with the cathedral—how does a hole-in-the-wall have such incredible original artwork? No one knows; it’s one of those great Denver mysteries, like the ghosts of Cheesman Park or why we keep drinking Coors.

Last September, I bought a $10 fundraising to-go Popcorn Pack from the Bug Theatre because the place is an eclectic middle finger to the slot-home monstrosities encircling it. It’s also a vital sounding board for oddball artists, like me. In nonpandemic times, my friends and I hosted a monthly comedy show there called The Grawlix. But my first time at the Bug was experiencing David Sedaris’ SantaLand Diaries when I was 19.

When I saw the “Save the World Famous Lion’s Lair” fundraising push in December, the money flew out of my account. In a sea of rooftop Chad depots, the Lair oozes Colfax character—and yes, “oozes” is the exact proper verb. I shouldn’t have to tell you why.

Then there’s Buntport Theater, a Denver institution that’s been cranking out original plays for 18 years. It’s a fount of creativity, which is why it’s no surprise the theater has staged several offbeat pandemic productions, including one my wife and I streamed one evening in January for a donation of $20. Money. Well. Spent.

Were one to dig deeper, one would unearth even more “donations” in the form of credit card receipts for chile rellenos from La Pasadita Inn and a T-shirt I didn’t need from Wax Trax. Debt be damned. I spent my money the way I like to spend my time: supporting independent businesses that remind me of the Denver I grew up in, before the mixed-use condos and e-scooters, a place where no one knew what John Elway’s politics were yet, 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 the good kind of viral. “The first day I posted it, Governor [Jared] Polis blasted it to all his Facebook followers,” Muerdter says 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 for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden started the project in early February after co-workers told him how challenging it was to navigate pharmacy sites in order to get their parents inoculated. So, he spent his spare time making bots that could scan websites of major pharmacy companies (King Soopers, Walgreens, CVS) for available time slots and put them all in one place. The positive response to his work prompted Muerdter to replicate the process for every state. Upkeep for the widely used resource became a second full-time job for him, but the feedback he got made it all worth it. “One woman said she found 400 slots for residents in a day,” Muerdter says. At press time, he planned to keep the site running, as long as it was still saving lives. —Shane Monaghan

3. Because Denverites stepped up to the (dinner) plate.

To help the nearly two in five Coloradans who are food-insecure—an issue worsened by COVID-19—these organizations are keeping bellies full and home pantries stocked in the 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 refrigerator they painted outside of Mutiny Information Cafe. Photo by Eli Zain

The Organization: Seven-month-old Denver Community Fridges operates volunteer-stocked refrigerators planted at eight host sites in Denver.
The Mission: Expand access to premade meals, fresh produce, dairy, and other pantry essentials.
The Impact: Anyone can take goods from refrigerators set up in Sunnyside, Globeville, Berkeley, RiNo, Baker, East Colfax, and Curtis Park.

The Organization: Nonprofit food truck Kitchen One for One debuted its Taco Night in November 2020. The program serves no-cost and pay-what-you-can tacos with fiery green chile chicken, braised carnitas, and other goodies at rotating locations.
The Mission: Provide restaurant-quality meals to hungry Coloradans on the Front Range.
The Impact: The outfit delivers between 400 and 1,200 meals weekly, while each Taco Night dishes about 200 plates across the metro area.

The Organization: Re:Vision, a nonprofit cultivating food systems in marginalized neighborhoods via backyard gardens, urban farms, and food distribution programs since 2007, launched emergency
meal kit and no-cost grocery programs at the onset of the pandemic.
The Mission: Supply nutritious fare 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 supplying medically tailored meals to those living with life-threatening illnesses, expanded services to those diagnosed with COVID-19.
The Mission: Deliver wholesome meals to immunocompromised individuals.
The Impact: Every week, about 10,000-plus chef-prepared dishes are delivered to 1,416 people living in the Denver and Colorado Springs vicinities.

Patricia Kaowthumrong
Patricia Kaowthumrong
Patricia joined the 5280 staff in July 2019 and is thrilled to oversee all of the magazine’s dining coverage. Follow her food reporting adventures on Instagram @whatispattyeating.
Shane Monaghan
Shane Monaghan
Shane Monaghan is the former digital editor of 5280.com and teaches journalism at Regis Jesuit High School.