Thanksgiving basket drive serves over 200 area families

To many people, Thanksgiving means sharing steaming plates of turkey, mashed potatoes and green bean casserole around a dinner table with the warmth of friends and family nearby. But, to many people in the community who struggle to make ends meet as a single parent, a student or a recently laid off employee, a picture-perfect Thanksgiving doesn’t seem possible.

This year over 200 families in the Champaign, Urbana and Savoy areas will receive the Thanksgiving dinner they wouldn’t have otherwise been able to provide through donations to a food drive sponsored by the University.

From Oct. 29 to Nov. 14 the Office of Volunteer Programs held its sixth annual Thanksgiving Basket Drive. Tashamber Smith, student employee at OVP and junior in LAS, said around 7 p.m. Wednesday there were 130 baskets, twice the amount they received the first year.

Vaneitta Goines, OVP program adviser, said she helped the project leader, Diwante Shuford, senior in LAS, with the logistics of the drive.

“The Thanksgiving Basket Drive is about providing families with the ingredients they need to create a Thanksgiving meal for themselves,” she said. “But also, it’s about letting them know someone out there in the community cares about them and also hopefully trying to give them a little bit of hope.”

Goines said volunteers added personal touches to the baskets this year by including items such as scarves, children’s snacks and family recipes.

The drive also coordinated with The Quad Shop for the first time to offer pre-made baskets at a lower cost than buying each meal item individually at a grocery store. Baskets cost $40, and donors were able to pre-order their baskets through email. Justin Hayes, Quad Shop manager, said he was approached by many campus organizations, University departments and individuals who donated baskets on behalf of their families.

Kathy Kaler, life skills coordinator for the athletics department, said the football team provided a total of 14 baskets for the drive. The athletic department said they are happy to be donating 46 baskets this year among all sports teams.

“The students collected money from everyone on the team, and Coach Beckman matched what the students raised,” Kaler said. “We want everyone to have a great Thanksgiving, and we know there are at least 46 families that will do just that.”

The baskets will be distributed among 19 agencies that will decide which of their members is most in need of the meal.

Savoy Head Start, a preschool for 3- to 5-year-olds, has requested baskets for the past two years. Trinita Winston, family advocate for the organization, said as long as they have the resources, they will continue to help the families of their students with help from the community.

Winston said she requested 20 baskets this year and will give them to the families of her students. She said she conducts home visits and distributes the baskets to the families most in need — which sometimes includes parents currently attending the University and Parkland College.

“They are so appreciative, you wouldn’t believe it,” she said. “They always say, ‘Thank you so much, I wouldn’t have been able to have Thanksgiving dinner.’”

Corinne can be reached cruff2@dailyillini.com.