Bright and early Monday morning, about 30 volunteer students and their parents unloaded containers of Thanksgiving food from their cars at Aylen Junior High School.
Puyallup resident Shirley Wagner calls them all her “Thanksgiving angels.”
“This is how many Thanksgiving angels there are,” Wagner said.
For the past 25 years, Wagner has been putting together Thanksgiving baskets for families in need when the holiday rolls around. She’s lived in Puyallup for about five decades.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News Tribune
“It’s such an amazing thing to be able to reach out to others,” Wagner said.
The Thanksgiving tradition started at what is now Hotel Murano in Tacoma. Twenty-five years ago, it was a Sheraton Hotel. There, Wagner and a few of her friends from school would get together and throw birthday parties for each other.
One day, they thought that instead of buying things for each other, they’d do something for others.
“The next year, we decided instead of having birthday parties, to do this,” Wagner said about the baskets.
From there, the tradition grew to help more and more families. As Wagner’s grandchildren started school in the Puyallup School District, booster clubs became involved.
Levongia Carrera, whose son is a sixth-grader at Aylen, is an active member of the Aylen Booster Club and has been helping with the Thanksgiving baskets for several years.
“My son loves it. He loves anything that’s helping people,” Carrera said, adding that the booster club members were eager to get involved. “That’s our mission — it’s to help the community and help the kids.”
My son loves it. He loves anything that’s helping people. That’s our mission — it’s to help the community and help the kids.
Levongia Carrera, Alyen Junior High School Booster Club
Now, Fruitland Elementary, Aylen Elementary and All Saints Catholic Church are making baskets. All items in the baskets are donated by local community members and organizations, who contact Wagner and sign up for what they can give. Some choose to give monetary donations, too.
“It’s been absolutely amazing, the generosity,” Wagner said.
This year, volunteers at Aylen made 15 baskets. Volunteers at Hotel Murano are making 60 baskets, and volunteers at All Saints are making 150 baskets for those in need. Wagner said schools are contacted to figure out who might need a basket.
“They just check with the counselors and if they have families, we’ll take them,” Wagner said.
Wagner creates a list of things that are needed: turkeys, potatoes, pumpkin pie, sparkling cider, bread, vegetables, whipped cream, onions, cranberries, milk, marshmallows and even coffee.
“Everything you’d need for a Thanksgiving dinner is in that basket,” Wagner said.
Everything you’d need for a Thanksgiving dinner is in that basket.
After supplies are collected, volunteers create a line to make sure each item gets placed inside each box. After the boxes are filled, they’re tied with ribbons and cards wishing the families a good holiday.
Families are welcome to privately pick up a basket as they please. Baskets can also be taken to the families if they aren’t able to pick them up.
“It’s the joy of reaching out to someone else,” Wagner said. “(And) it makes our Thanksgivings better.”
The students also learn about what it means to give back, Wagner said. Her granddaughter, Aylen sixth-grader Gracie Grant, said putting the baskets together made her feel both helpful and grateful.
“I think it’s really nice that we’re helping out,” Grant said. “I’m grateful that I’m able to have something on the table while some kids don’t.”
But some kids will now have what they need for a Thanksgiving feast, thanks to the work of the volunteers.
“It touches my heart,” Wagner said.