The joy and gratitude on people’s faces as they received their Thanksgiving basket filled with a gourmet feast makes the project one of Soroptimist favorite activities. While the pandemic continues on, Soroptimist have been more determined to bring a feast to those in need.
“I was inspired to volunteer because I like that people who could have been on the holiday are made to feel special,” Past Soroptimist President Patty Brightman said. “I enjoy meeting these very special people in our community that don’t get out much.”
Brightman explained that in previous years, not only have Soroptimist members delivered the baskets, but if the recipient does not move around easily the volunteers will also unpack the basket and put the food away for them.
“Many times, it is not just dropping the basket off, we spend time with them. I have met some lovely people over the years,” Brightman said
Soroptimist Past President Diana Sibert has volunteered as long as she has been a member, Sibert said
“There is something special about this project and participating in it makes the Thanksgiving season more meaningful to me,” Sibert said, explaining that most years she delivers the baskets giving her the opportunity to meet people she might not ordinarily have met.
Gathering to decorate and assemble the baskets is also a bonding time for Soroptimist members, however due to COVID, socially distancing measures were taken as food was carefully dropped off. As recipients typically fall into a high-risk group for COVID, deliveries were also carefully arranged.
The program began over ten years ago. Soroptimist past president Laura Tuttle explained she and Joyce Sobel, the namesake of the Joyce Sobel Family Resource Center on San Juan Island, began discussing primarily elder islanders who were homebound, only able to leave their house for medical appointments and other urgent errands. The economic need of these individuals is great, Tuttle said, and their resources limited.
“Many couldn’t make to the free Thanksgiving community meal,” Tuttle said. “the idea of a gourmet food baskets being delivered to these folks around Thanksgiving began to take life.
The first year was a collaboration between the Family Resource Center; Sobel; Tuttle; Lori Stokes; Shelley Alan; Anita Barreca among many others. The team roasted and stuffed chicken, whipped up gravy, boiled potatoes, and baked rolls, cookies and pies. While the cleanup crew was hard at work in the kitchens, overflowing baskets of food were loaded into a van. Operation Thanksgiving baskets commenced.
“One elderly gentleman was so overwhelmed by the food in the basket he began to cry,” Tuttle said. “He explained his wife had died some months before and he was so depressed. He was out of money and food.” The man proceeded to parcel out the food in the basket, Tuttle continued, refrigerating some and freezing the rest. The man was able to live off the food for weeks.
Later the man saw Soroptimist selling raffle tickets at Kings Market. Knowing the women who delivered his Thanksgiving basket were Soroptimists, he told the members selling tickets how grateful he was.
“He said that Soroptimists had given him hope with that basket delivery and that he had subsequently gotten help to get him out of his depression and had begun to enjoy life again,” Tuttle said.
The project became an official Soroptimist project the following year. Over a decade later it has evolved to provide between 15-20 baskets. Some of the baskets go to individuals others to households who are struggling. Other areas of the community have assisted as well. Sibert explained that St. David’s Episcopal Church has generously opened their doors for several years providing space for the Soroptimist club to assemble the baskets. The roasted chickens in each basket are purchased at discount from Kings Market. Then there are all the delicious homemade side and deserts cooked by our members, the beautifully decorated baskets created by the more artistically talented Soroptimist members.
Covid has brough challenges and made Soroptimist get creative how to ensure safety. Last year caterer Stacy Smith gladly helped with the sides in her commercial kitchen, and will do so again this year.
“A lot of people working together make this project happen. Its nice to be a part of that. By the time the baskets reach their destination, they are not only filled with food they are also filled with a big helping of kindness and care,” Sibert said. “As grateful as people are to receive the baskets, I feel equally grateful to be a small part of their Thanksgiving, grateful for the connection, the conversation, the stories and the smiles,” Sibert said.