Photo courtesy of Seattle Basket Brigade
The 2013 volunteer crew of Seattle Basket Brigade. 

At Large in Ballard: Ahead of the trot

By Peggy Sturdivant

I love to watch the Turkey Trot in Ballard on Thanksgiving morning. When it premiered eight years ago there were so few people it wasn’t even obvious that it was organized. Now the runners and walkers pass for over half an hour, wearing feathery tutus and Turkey hats. The best part is that every Turkey Trot T-shirt represents registration money going into the coffers of the Ballard Food Bank.

But I’m usually watching from my porch with a hot cup of coffee waving my cat’s paw, not pounding the streets. This year I’ve learned what I can do before the holiday so that I can watch runners with less guilt, and others can have a turkey in the oven too.

At the end of an exercise class the teacher gave the floor to a man in the corner. “I’m doing my 9th Seattle Basket Brigade,” he said. “We need donations and volunteers, anything you can do to help us so we can put together 300 baskets to deliver to families for Thanksgiving.”

I took one of his flyers, feeling for once that it wasn’t already too late to do something. His simple half-page announcement listed ways to help between that moment and his goal to put some 300 turkeys and boxes of food on the doorsteps of families known to need help. The immediate need was for donations so that he could know roughly how many people his group, Seattle Basket Brigade, could serve this year, before contacting 5-6 local agencies and promising something he couldn’t actually deliver.

The next need was for up to 300 volunteers to register to assemble the actual baskets (and boxes) in an assembly line fashion on Saturday, November 22, 2014. In addition to planning and cleanup there were also opportunities for the part many find most rewarding of all, actual delivery.

The organizer wrote his name and number for me on the back of the half-page announcement. He’s Les Berenson, M.D., a doctor in Internal Medicine with a focus on Preventive and Wellness Medicine. He became aware of the International Basket Brigade that is part of the Anthony Robbins Foundation (think “Chicken Soup for the Soul”). At first he volunteered and then he did what the foundation encourages: organized his own Seattle Basket Brigade nine years ago.

In 2013 they partnered with food banks, shelters and other agencies to deliver a Thanksgiving meal (plus) to approximately 1500 people. Berenson’s goal is to be able to do at least the same number this year. Unlike a meal served at a shelter the Seattle Basket Brigade provides a turkey to be cooked in the home, along with a roasting pan, all those beloved trimmings, and additional food to provide for several days. He describes those served as families who may have illnesses, lost parents, lost jobs, senior citizens, women and children who are starting over after leaving abusive relationships, and more.

Berenson starts planning the logistics in September, lining up the space, donations, volunteers…but this part of November is the most stressful, and crucial. At roughly $45 per basket he needs to fundraise on the order of $13,000. He has to gamble a bit on what funds will arrive, and when.

He never lacks for volunteers to assemble the basket/boxes. He has friends who travel from Eastern Washington to participate and even small children love to help fill the boxes by moving along the line of donated goods: two cans pumpkin, one package stuffing, etc. Teens can receive community service hours. The Saturday volunteers are so efficient that in donated community center space they can start the line at 11 a.m., have a lunch break, photo opportunity, load vehicles and have the cleanup done by 2:30 p.m.

It’s what needs to happen before 300 volunteers make fast work of helping others: those checks that need to arrive in the mail or by PayPal donations. Once he’s reached the targeted amount and additional funds arrive, “We can always increase the deliveries, and pay our bills.”

So the week of November 10th and through his volunteer registration cut-off on November 19, 2014 is when Berenson and his planning crew have to spread the word and stay confident. He has no doubt at what can be accomplished if there are the funds to put together the baskets. He knows from testimonials and the reminder of the video made by a participant last year how rewarding it is for all ages to gather and make these baskets. Attached to each cellophane wrapped turkey is this message: "This basket comes to you from people who care. All we ask is that you take care of yourself well enough to be able to do this for someone else one day."

I’m planning to donate and perhaps participate in the event that is assembly (with an after party at Berenson’s house). So when the Turkey Trotters pass by this year I will watch knowing my donation helped deliver an actual turkey to someone, perhaps already roasting in their oven. By Thanksgiving Day the Seattle Basket Brigade’s work will be done, until next year that is.

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