As the holiday season begins and thoughts begin turning to turkeys and gift wrap, a group of dedicated Gig Harbor area locals are quietly working to help their neighbors in need to celebrate Thanksgiving along with the rest of the country.
Led by David Cathers, the Gig Harbor Basket Brigade is celebrating its 23rd year giving Thanksgiving turkeys and boxes of food to those who need a bit of help this holiday.
“It keeps growing every year,” Cathers said. “All the years of doing this and all the people who have gotten baskets come to help. It’s come full circle.”
Cathers started the Basket Brigade the year after he moved to Gig Harbor from Alaska, putting the project together in just under two weeks and bringing food to 12 families.
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It keeps growing every year. All the years of doing this and all the people who have gotten baskets come to help. It’s come full circle.
Word of mouth and dedicated helpers have grown the Brigade to reach families from Bremerton to the Key Peninsula to Joint Base Lewis-McChord and everywhere in between.
“I’ve never put (up) a barrier,” Cathers said. “I’ve always told people ‘Yes, I go across the bridge.’ They’re part of our community, too.”
Last year, Cathers and 450 volunteers put together 1,305 baskets to feed 4,769 people, with 292 baskets to Navy families in Bremerton and Port Orchard and 215 baskets to JBLM families.
“If we’ve fed one person, we consider that a success,” Cathers said. “It’s grown so much.”
Amanda Smith has been volunteering with the Basket Brigade for the past four years, ever since talking with Cathers at the Brigade’s booth at the Scarecrow Festival.
One part of the brigade that she loves is that it serves any family — reaching Pierce, Mason and Kitsap counties — that is in need during the holiday.
“We take on any family that needs help,” Smith said.
It’s great because it’s grown with people who’ve gotten baskets or their friends come in and help. No one’s doing it for a slap on the back. They’re doing it because they feel good about doing it.
A Port Orchard resident, she brings her two daughters, ages 4 and 8, along with her husband to help fill baskets every year.
“I feel like I’m the one getting so much out of it. My family gets so much out of it,” she said. “It’s just something so amazing to be part of. It’s about being part of something so much bigger than yourself.”
Donations for the Basket Brigade come in the form of both funds and food, with families and individuals donating alongside businesses and larger corporations that include Wal-Mart, Costco and Winco.
Many Gig Harbor businesses run donation drives and serve as drop-off points for donated food and have made these activities yearly traditions, Cathers said.
Each basket the brigade puts together includes a turkey and pan, along with a box with about a weeks worth of food that includes everything from mashed potatoes to rice, pasta and peanut butter. And the crowning touch on each basket is a note that reads: “This basket comes to you from someone who cares about you. All we ask is that you take care of yourself well enough to do this for someone else someday.”
I feel like I’m the one getting so much out of it. My family gets so much out of it. It’s just something so amazing to be part of. It’s about being part of something so much bigger than yourself.
Donated money is used to buy food and turkeys to fill the gaps in the donated food, and then everything is gathered and assembled Nov. 22 and 23 at the Tacoma Narrows Airport in hanger two.
“It’s great because it’s grown with people who’ve gotten baskets or their friends come in and help,” Cathers said. “No one’s doing it for a slap on the back. They’re doing it because they feel good about doing it.”
Names for donations are given anonymously and divided out geographically — Cathers holds the master list for privacy — with volunteers taking as many baskets to deliver as possible. The giving of the baskets themselves are done with as little attention and fanfare as possible, typically with a volunteer placing the food on the front porch and ringing the doorbell, before heading to the next delivery.
Cathers has dozens of memories that have stuck with him over his years delivering baskets, each one more touching and heartfelt than the last.
“There’s been a lot of neat things that’s happened delivering baskets,” he said. “They laugh at me when I talk at my Rotary club because I can’t quit crying.”
A memory from his first year delivering baskets is vivid: An elderly couple, the husband disabled and the wife serving as his caretaker, had received a basket. Cathers remembers the woman struggling to accept the gift, but the man inquired cheerily “What did we do to deserve this?” Before Cathers could respond, a child volunteering with the group piped up, “You were born!”
This memory illustrates the goal Cathers and Brigade volunteers work towards every year, reaching out and helping their neighbors because they are human.
“It just kicks you back into that mode and keeps you wanting to just go try,” Cathers said.
Gig Harbor Basket Brigade
For information on the brigade, to provide a name for a basket or to donate, visit gigharborbasketbrigade.com or contact Cathers at 253-278-9251.
Want to help assemble baskets? Volunteers can stop by at 4:30 p.m. Nov. 22 or 11 a.m. Nov. 23 at the Tacoma Narrows Airport, 1202 26th Ave NW, Building 1402, Hanger 2.