Blessings from the Seattle Basket Brigade

2014 Seattle Basket Brigade volunteers

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that has many meanings to different people. For some it is the be-all end-all celebration, when they see distant relatives and enjoy a long weekend of rest and relaxation. For others it signals chaos and undesirable chores: frantic last-minute shopping, cooking, and piles of dishes to be washed. The common denominator, though, is that it is the time to feast! Thanksgiving would not be thanksgiving without food. And who can resist a big, stuffed turkey filling the house with pleasant aromas, alongside mashed and buttered potatoes, cranberries, casseroles, and fresh apple and pumpkin pies still warm from the oven?

How can a family manage a feast when they can barely afford three square meals a day?

How can food banks and other meal programs supply enough food to meet the steadily increasing demand?

Enter the Seattle Basket Brigade. This group of volunteers raise donations and supplies to assemble Thanksgiving baskets filled with about $45 worth of ingredients needed to prepare a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, and then some. Whole turkeys, canned vegetables and proteins, boxed stuffing and mashed potatoes, fruit, and even a roasting pan for the turkey make a complete basket for families in need.

By teaming up with area food banks like North Helpline and the University District Food Bank, the Basket Brigade is able to locate interested households in need. Simultaneously taking the extra holiday season pressure off of food banks so that they may use their limited resources more efficiently.

Basket Brigade coordinator Les Berenson has been at the forefront of the group’s efforts, and is preparing for the 10th Seattle Basket Brigade this season, which could be the biggest yet with 500 baskets for 500 households.

That’s the goal at least, Berenson says. The final number of families who will be able to enjoy a holiday meal without hassle will depend on the number of donations and, of course, volunteers, that come through. 300 volunteers were needed last year to assemble roughly 300 baskets and to deliver them to the families anxiously awaiting their Thanksgiving feast. Berenson’s strategy for the Basket Brigade has been the same since the year it began with just eight families: try to do a little more each year.

So far it has worked. On the Saturday morning before Thanksgiving, November 21st, the 320+ volunteers will gather, along with all the turkey dinner supplies, in the spirit of contribution. Some volunteers will wrap the boxes, and others will wrap turkeys. In the afternoon baskets will be delivered to families’ doorsteps. That means no spending gas money or bus fare to get to the grocery store, and no racing to the meat section to secure the last turkey. No stress at all, besides cooking.

So far the Seattle Basket Brigade has been fortunate in donations raised, although there is some concern about the number of turkeys they will be able to purchase following the avian flu that has effected both the supply and cost of birds this year. Even with enough supplies though, they can’t deliver the food without enough drivers, an area that Berenson particularly stresses to new volunteers.

On the Seattle Basket Brigade website you’ll see testimonials from previous volunteers, heartwarming photos, and messages of “Thanksliving” on most pages. To Berenson, whose birthday falls around the Thanksgiving holiday, “Thanksliving” or, appreciation and gratitude for living every day, and for the ability to help others in some way, is what it’s all about. As North Helpline clients and volunteers know first hand, one small act of generosity can transform the lives of hundreds.

If you would like to learn more about the Seattle Basket Brigade or are thinking about getting involved next year, sign up for their mailing list.