Thanks to the efforts of members of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, hundreds of local families have had something to be thankful for during the holidays.
For the past 20 years, the church has collected everything you would need to whip up a Thanksgiving feast your family would remember for years to come and divided them up into massive laundry baskets to send to local schools. The principals at those schools then identify students whose families they believe would benefit the most from the gift and the near 50-pound basket is handed off, quietly and under the radar, to the child’s parents.
“We started small, approximately 20 years ago,” Sandy Black, St. Peter’s member and former principal at Springhead Elementary School, said. “At that time I was still the principal at Springhead and Ms. Marion Gatliff’s grandchildren had gone to Springhead. She started talking about doing something like this for the school, and so that year we focused just on our one school. Then every year we challenged ourselves. What if we did five baskets? What if we did two schools? We really just were pushing to see how much we could get.”
Now the congregation provides the gift of 20 baskets to four schools: Springhead, Burney Elementary, Walden Lake Elementary and Cork Elementary. A few months before Thanksgiving, Gatliff will stand from her pew during a weekly service and remind people the holiday is around the corner. From there, the donations begin to pour in.
Black said St. Peter’s actually gathers food year-round for the food bank, and it begins approximately six weeks before Thanksgiving to save the food for this project as well as accept monetary and physical donations to meet its goal of filling 20 baskets.
It all began nearly two decades ago with Gatliff’s vision and now it has blossomed into a massive undertaking.
Classics like turkeys, sweet potatoes, green beans, stuffing, and pies, and even non-holiday food like pasta and cereal, are gathered. Cooking essentials like sugar and flour are also put into the basket. Every aspect of the meal is covered and Black said the hope is the food they give them will last well beyond one day and its leftovers.
They also want the family to have plenty of food for the upcoming weeks so there is less stress on trying to find the money to put food on the table and buy gifts for their loved ones.
“We have an active outreach program and part of our ministries is to give back to the community wherever there is a need,” parishioner Craig Davidson, said. “The turkey alone is 15 pounds, the basket totals around 50 pounds.”
The volunteers came in early on Nov. 22 and laid out the food into separate categories for each table.
Then, like a well-oiled machine, they began the routine. Each grabbed a basket and loaded it with goodies. Once it weighed 20 or 30 pounds, they moved it to a table in the back and made short trips back and forth to grab the final items.
Each basket gets a handmade quilt stitched with love by Jane Bender. The frozen turkey and refrigerated pies went in right before loading so they wouldn’t thaw out.
Then a few designated members took their cars, filled to the brim with the baskets, and trekked over to the schools.
By then the word had spread and some of the parents that were selected were already waiting with hugs for the volunteers and smiling faces.
Black said while they have nothing to do with who is selected and whether or not they actually meet the families they’re helping out, she fondly remembers her years as a principal bringing the gifts to the families of her students.
“I used to get to see it firsthand by being there at the school,” Black said. “The people that receive it, well, they’re always so pleased. It’s just a blessing. We try really hard to provide everything they would need for a Thanksgiving meal, but then there’s a lot of other things, too. We realized that these families could benefit from more than just stuff for that one day, so we really just push ourselves to fill the baskets to the brim.”