Chapman University freshman Elly Aronson received an important lesson last year while preparing a documentary on the Basket Brigade in Gig Harbor.
“It was an amazing experience to be part of,” Aronson remembered. “Seeing so many people from different organizations coming together for a single purpose was truly inspirational.”
The 18-year-old soccer standout recorded many of the meetings held to prepare for the night when boxes were filled with turkeys and fresh produce. She also filmed the meals being dropped off to residents who may not have been able to afford a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
“The goal was to do a ding-dong dash,” she said with a smile. “The hope was that they could leave the boxes on the doorstep, ring the bell and run away so the gift would be completely anonymous. But many times the people were out in their yards so the volunteers would just hand over the box and try to make a quick exit.”
Aronson said the recipients she filmed were surprised by the generosity and grateful for the kindness. The lesson she learned as an observer of the Basket Brigade has inspired her to go back again this year to fill boxes and help deliver holiday dinners.
The Basket Brigade has been delivering Thanksgiving dinners to families in Gig Harbor and the surrounding communities for 23 years, according to residential Realtor David Cathers, who serves as coordinator for the annual effort.
The program began with delivery of turkeys and roasting pans to 12 families. Cathers said 450 volunteers from civic and service organizations came together last November to provide holiday meals to 1,305 families. He estimated the meals fed more than 4,700 people.
Many of the holiday feasts went to military families stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The list of recipients, said Cathers, is provided by schools and churches in the area.
Each basket was delivered with a card that read: “This basket comes to you from someone who cares about you. All we ask is that you take care of yourself well enough to do this for someone else someday.”
“The people who receive the baskets may be out of work, have suffered a death in the family or might be going through a difficult divorce,” said Cathers. “Every family deserves the chance to give thanks in spite of the hard times they may be faced with.”
The Realtor added that many of the volunteers who were convinced to help for a single night have returned on their own, year after year.
“The most rewarding part of the program is when somebody wants to help because their family had been given a Thanksgiving basket when they were young,” said Cathers. “Young people have come back to say the lessons they learned from the Basket Brigade inspired them to join the Peace Corps. Others have duplicated the program while they were stationed with the military around the world.”
Cathers said he invited a friend visiting from Oklahoma to pack baskets with him. That friend returns every year to take part in the Basket Brigade. The program has been so successful, he said, that it has been replicated in communities across Western Washington.
This year the efforts of the Basket Brigade will be enhanced through the Make a Difference Day program coordinated by the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation (GGHF). Volunteers from the foundation are scheduled to coordinate donations and raise funds for the Bucket Brigade on Oct. 26 at Peninsula High School.
The foundation joined the Make a Difference Day campaign in 2013 by incorporating the national day of service into its own on-going Community Harvest Project. In addition to the Thanksgiving deliveries this year, the directors of the foundation hope to deliver food backpacks to children on two peninsulas as part of the #Backpacks4Kids program.
The foundation has marked the national day of service for the past 25 years in an effort to improve the lives of residents within the community.
By joining forces with volunteers and businesses in the area, The Gig Harbor Foundation hopes to expand their mission by having residents stand up for members of the community in ways that will be felt throughout the year. In the past three years, the Community Harvest Program has turned $20,000 in donations into food, coatsand blankets donated to programs that help meet vital needs across the region.
A statement on the GGHF website declared, “In 2016, we are changing things up to help make an impact in our community that extends beyond this one day through the new #Community Harvest Project by feeding families for a brighter future.”
Make A Difference Day is the single largest national day of community service in the country. Held annually over the past 25 years on the fourth Saturday of October, it is a celebration of neighbors helping neighbors when millions of Americans unite on a single day in a common mission to improve the lives of others.
For more information on the Make A Difference Day program by the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation, log onto to the foundation website at www.gigharborfoundation.org/MDD.
Information on packing and delivering meals for the Basket Brigade on Nov. 24 and 25 is available at www.gigharborbasketbrigade.com.
Dan Aznoff was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the toxic waste crisis. He is now a freelance writer who lives in Mukilteo dedicated to capturing the cherished stories of our lifetime so they can be preserved for future generations. He can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.