Happy Baskets seeing highest demand ever

Happy Baskets seeing highest demand ever

CUMBERLAND – Organizers of Happy Baskets, a Cumberland community program that receives donations from the Cumberland School District, local businesses and residents, say demand for Thanksgiving meals is greater than ever.

John Johnson, director of Happy Baskets, has projected that this Thanksgiving holiday, the program will provide more than 350 baskets to needy families. The average number of baskets given out in the past has been 250 baskets each Thanksgiving, Johnson said.

“Some years, when the economy is not doing very well, I’m expecting really big numbers, and I get surprised by numbers that are 20 to 50 families lower than what I anticipate,” he said. “This year, I wasn’t expecting this type of number. I was thinking maybe 250 to 300 at the tops, but we passed that a long time ago.”

Even as partner schools and churches are projecting a greater need than ever, Johnson said, there is a shortage of supplies. He said a look inside the pantry showed not enough food to meet the demand.

“We’re really in need of food right now,” Johnson said. “That’s a huge number for us. Even with our food drive, I’m going to have to buy quite a bit of food to get through Thanksgiving. That’s unusual.”

Johnson gives the Cumberland School Department Happy Baskets vouchers because he said he knows that the administrators and teachers at the school will know who should receive a basket. He said he would never question the decisions of the school district.

Everyone else who receives a basket has to sit down with Johnson or his co-worker, Melinda Acosta. Recipients have to prove that they are in need through documentation, such as a certification letter from Social Security, or proof that they are getting living assistance, he said.

Johnson has worked for Happy Baskets since it was started by Ann Brown in 1992. However, he has been adopting families to take care of at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter since 1984.

Johnson said the organization has changed the most over the past 26 years by starting to provide more than just a meal in a basket to families during the Thanksgiving season. The baskets now have items that are not traditionally eaten at holiday meals, such as pastas, peanut butter, jelly, oatmeal, rice and cereal, he said. Each basket also includes traditional holiday foods, such as potatoes, squash and bread, he said.

Instead of going home with turkeys, Happy Basket recipients receive gift cards to Dave’s Marketplace so they can get a turkey or anything else they may want, Johnson said. However, one organization donates 100 turkeys to Happy Baskets that go to the first 100 recipients in line, he said.

The biggest individual financial supporter of the Happy Baskets program over the last three years has been the B. Glad Memorial 5K Run and Walk.

This year’s event will be held at 10 a.m. this Saturday, Nov. 11, at The Monastery, 1464 Diamond Hill Road. Registration is $20. This will be the third annual event, which has raised $5,734 for Happy Baskets, said Olivia Barboza, the event’s manager and a junior at Cumberland High School.

The event came about through her brother, Dave Barboza, who created the race as his Eagle Scout service project, she said. The race is in honor of their uncle, Bill Glad, who died in 2014 and had volunteered with Olivia and Dave to help Happy Baskets.

Baskets for the Happy Baskets program will be compiled at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 16, one week before Thanksgiving, at the Cumberland Senior Center at the Monastery.

Happy Baskets recipients will get their boxes on Monday, Nov. 20, at the Senior Center, located behind the Cumberland Public Library. Volunteers are welcome to attend both events.

Food can be donated at local schools and churches in Cumberland.

For those wishing to donate to the program, make checks payable to "The Happy Basket Program” and mail them to P.O. Box 7611 Cumberland, RI 02864. Call 401-487-1282 or email hbprogram@gmail.com for more information.