By Tori Mason

DENVER (CBS4)– For the first January in over 100 years, the parking lots near I-70 and Brighton Boulevard are empty. The National Western Stock Show attracts more than 700,000 guests annually, making it impossible to hold during COVID-19 pandemic. It’s quiet inside the National Western Complex, but the staff are staying busy.

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“We could either sit around, feeling sorry for ourselves, because we can’t do the National Western Stock Show, or we could go out and serve others. The staff and board rallied behind us and said ‘let’s go serve others’,” said Paul Andrews, President and CEO of the NWSS.

The pandemic left NWSS staff with 16 days of free time this month, so they decided to dedicate them to 16 non-profits. Andrews and his staff spent Wednesday volunteering at Gold Crown Foundation in Lakewood.

“Last week, they helped us unbox all of our produce and put stuff in the fridge. This week, they’ve been helping us get ready with our dairy and all of our dry goods. They’re going to help us hand it all out to families today,” said Alyssa Svalberg with the Gold Crown Foundation.

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Svalberg would normally visit the Stock Show with her nieces and nephews, but she’s just as excited to welcome their staff’s helping hands. The National Western Complex’s Stock Show kick-off parade in downtown Denver also came to halt, but staff were able to bring a smaller version to Children’s Hospital Colorado.

“We just wanted to put some smiles on those kids’ faces and frontline workers’ faces. We brought about 10 animal exhibits down there with some horses and trick rovers. Miniature ponies, as well,” said Andrews.

During January, the Stock Show staff also helped clean up the Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods. They plan to visit Habitat for Humanity soon. However, COVID didn’t halt every tradition. Online fundraising has helped the Stock Show continue to provide scholarships to students around Colorado and Wyoming.

“That fund generates more than $500,000 a year for those kids. We are 100%, giving to them again this year at those exact same levels. We had various events, like the Coors Western Art Show, that are going virtual this year. That will fund the trust,” said Andrews.

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The NWSS has only been postponed one other time in its history. In 1915, a “hoof and mouth” epidemic hit livestock across the country. After this global pandemic, everyone is trying to get back on the horse this year. The stock show is here to help until their turn in 2022.

“It’s heartbreaking for us not to be able to put on the National Western Stock Show. I can assure you, it is harder on us to not put it on than it is to put it on. We work 20 hours a day, and we’d rather be doing that, than not able to enjoy it. We’re thankful we can at least serve some nonprofits during this time,” said Andrews.

Tori Mason