Basket Brigade delivers meals, message of caring

Submitted by Brian P Walsh
Updated 11/23/2018 9:09 AM
  • Basket Brigade 2018 volunteers at Hoffman Estates High School on Nov. 17.

    Basket Brigade 2018 volunteers at Hoffman Estates High School on Nov. 17. Courtesy of Michael Barton

On Saturday, Nov. 17, more than 500 volunteers from the Basket Brigade of Suburban Chicago packed and personally delivered 1,335 complete Thanksgiving dinners to families in need all around the Chicago suburbs.

Each Thanksgiving basket feeds a family of five, and included a turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, gravy, rolls, corn, marshmallows, cranberries, vegetables, mac and cheese, and even a pumpkin pie for dessert.

In its fourth year, the Basket Brigade of Suburban Chicago was founded by Brian and Cherish Walsh with the mission "to put the 'giving' back into Thanksgiving." Founded in memory of Brian's mother, Lorraine M. Walsh, the Basket Brigade of Suburban Chicago combines aspects of fundraising and volunteerism along with personal growth.

Basket Brigade Assembly Day is always the Saturday before Thanksgiving, so that the meal arrives in plenty of time for the families receiving them to make their plans without the stress of trying to figure out how to pay for it all.

The event was held at Hoffman Estates High School, where the volunteers assisted in packaging the meals and were then provided with the addresses of families who were nominated by a variety of sources, including private nominations on the Basket Brigade's website, as well as local nonprofits, churches, day cares, schools and other social service organizations.

"Each basket contains enough food to feed a family of five," says Basket Brigade Treasurer Eric Hartmann. "And the thought that we are literally bringing Thanksgiving to thousands people in our local area is absolutely amazing."

"Another inspirational part of the process that we focus on is the growth of the giver, as our volunteers are personally delivering the meals to the families in need," says Brian Walsh. "The impact of seeing how their volunteering is directly impacting the lives of these families in need is immeasurable."

All nominations are confidential, and each basket contains a note stating, "This comes to you from someone who cares about you. All we ask is that you take care of yourself well enough to be able to do this for someone else someday," which is written in both English and Spanish.

Also included in the box are handmade coloring pages and notes from the children of the volunteers.

"We really tried to make the overall experience of the box be both functional and inspirational," says co-founder Cherish Walsh, "and we definitely want our kids to play a big role in that, so we came up with crafts and coloring pages that are included in the box, which serves two purposes -- it allows our children to feel more involved in the process, and keeps them occupied while the parents are assembling the boxes."

The Walshes and their team spend several months planning, fundraising, organizing and finding the recipients.

"We work closely with our communities to find the volunteers and to solicit the necessary donations, both private and corporate," said Brian Walsh. "We have also been able to partner up with many cool organizations, nonprofits, and civic organizations to identify families in need. It is really a team effort."

In its previous three years, the Basket Brigade of Suburban Chicago delivered complete Thanksgiving dinners to 195 families in 2015; 268 families in 2016; and 763 families in 2017, delivering food, a message of hope and changing lives along the way.

"The whole process is an emotional and uplifting one," says Cherish Walsh, "and the stories and the notes of thanks that we receive from the recipients, and the reports we receive back from the drivers of the joy they witness, the gratitude, the impact, sometimes people literally jumping for joy, is truly inspirational."

"The message that we hope to pass along to the families receiving the meal, and to our volunteers, our children and the community, is that the secret to living is giving," Brian Walsh added.

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