Basket Day

It’s November, which means many things at our humble homestead.

Once we’ve plowed through the “OMGawd ( that’s for my fellow Blogger Lisa Dingle whose work you can check out at )  it’s gonna snow any minute now” marathon of garden clearing, garage cleaning, wood stacking, recycling runs we are free to turn our thoughts to several important countdowns. If you are my would be perfect husband ( so named because he truly seeks elusive perfection in everything he does; besides the title of “nearly perfect husband” has already been tagged in the aforementioned blog  wink  wink Lisa D. ) there is the countdown to Black Friday, because if one is a vegetarian, Thanksgiving simply does not hold the same appeal as when one was a carnivore. The appeal of finding the deal of the year, however know no dietary restrictions.   I, on the other hand love Thanksgiving because it combines two of my most cherished elements of life:  food and family, without the stress of would be perfect gift giving associated with next month’s big family and food holiday season.  My countdown however targets the Friday prior to Thanksgiving, a day known here as “Basket Brigade Day.”  It has been my favorite day of the year for over two decades now. That is because in 1992, my husband (inspired by a life coaching seminar he had attended) asked me to help him organize a Thanksgiving Food Basket progam.

We started small and kept it simple, drawing on family and friends to help us purchase enough food to stock a few boxes to provide Thanksgiving dinner, complete with turkeys for  a couple of local families in need. A few years later,  we had close to a dozen people coming to our house a few days before Thanksgiving to help sort food, assemble boxes and deliver in all kinds of weather.  There was the year the teams delivered in near white out conditions when a Lake Effect snow storm blew in unannounced. Another year one of the delivery teams required a police escort to make their delivery as the intended home was on a city block where a shooting had occurred.  One year, I saw a small blurb in our local paper  asking readers to send in their thoughts on what they were most grateful for. I wrote in  my entry that I was grateful for the people who took time each year during a busy week to help us deliver those Thanksgiving Baskets. I got a call from the features editor asking if they could do a story about our “Basket Brigade.”  They sent a reporter/photographer the next week; they told me there would probably be a little story in the paper on Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving morning the local section of the paper had two stories side by side on the front page. One featured coverage of the County’s decision to eliminate the annual Thanksgiving food distribution program because the resources were needed for the Christmas program.  The other story featured our little Basket Brigade.  We were amazed  and my daughter who was only 7 at the time was a little embarrassed  because she was in one of the photos, helping me  (I was pregnant with her younger sister then.)  The next week, the social worker from our local elementary school called and asked if they could become involved in the program.  The following year  the elementary classrooms collected food.  Some of them collected small change to help purchase a turkey to go with their box of food.   The idea was to show students how a big need could be met when everyone contributed just a little bit.

That year we tripled our delivery capacity and almost two dozen families had  Thanksgiving Dinner.  Volunteer drivers assisted by members of a girl scout troop made deliveries for three hours on a dark, windy afternoon. Some of the classrooms had decorated their boxes and included cards or drawings.  A small mountain of extra food went to the local Christmas Bureau to jump start their holiday food drive. The impact on the students was significant enough for the school to make it an annual tradition.  The year after we almost missed delivery because of a snow day, we moved deliveries to the Friday before Thanksgiving,  just in case ( as I’ve said here before this is Upstate New York people, after Labor Day, snow is ALWAYS a factor;  plan for it, dress for it.)

I need to be clear about something here.  I write about this  not for recognition.  The Basket Brigade is an astoundingly simple program, we have not created anything innovative or heroic.  It can be (and in fact has been) replicated with a handful of people almost anywhere a community is willing to come together to help one another. That is the beauty of the idea. I write about it now because as our Creative Group members have been following the “Days of Gratitude” challenge I have been counting down the days to my favorite day of the year.  It is not my favorite day for the obvious reason one might think.  It is very gratifying to know we have done something to help others in need. The day’s significance comes from something I realized when I overhead a conversation between one of my daughters and her young friends. She had been invited to do something and she said she was going to be busy because it was “Basket Day.”  Her friend asked her what Basket Day was and our daughter answered “You know, the day when you deliver food to people who need it for Thanksgiving.”   For her and her sister, Basket Day was not something extraordinary but something we did as a matter of fact, something they thought everyone did. While I know my daughters have long since realized this is not the case, as I am sure the students of the elementary school also go on to discover, for me this is the day we can plant the idea that there is a way to help when help is needed.  My favorite day is Basket Day, when the difference I have made is starting a thought, planting an idea, creating a possibility. Let the countdown begin….

basket brigade kara and emma

Deborah H Rahalski


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