Holiday Basket Drive a source of community pride

Holiday Basket Drive a source of community pride

Economic and Cultural Affairs Officer for the City of Pawtucket Herb Weiss, left, and Pawtucket’s First Lady Laureen Grebien, right, carry items donated toward the city’s annual Thanksgiving Turkey Basket Drive into the drive’s packing location on Fountain Street. (Breeze photo by Bill Murphy)

PAWTUCKET – Laureen Grebien started her Pawtucket Holiday Basket Drive eight years ago with a few volunteers and about 100 recipients of turkey and the fixings. This fall, a small army of volunteers is planning to set a record by assembling 735 baskets.

That number is up from about 710 baskets last year, says Grebien, who is married to the Pawtucket mayor, and local levels of people in need show no signs of slowing down.

Grebien and her group collect donations throughout the year and then purchase food items to assemble on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving at 80 Fountain St.

“I look forward to this every year,” said Grebien.

Each year, she and others involved in the charitable project challenge themselves to remember the many stories they’ve heard of people who are down and out, all in hopes of brightening a particular family’s Thanksgiving next year. A recipient included a family who lost their home in a pre-holiday house fire, leaving them with nothing.

Many help out with the effort, including representatives from the Salvation Army of Pawtucket and the Pawtucket Red Sox, said Grebien. Local residents reach out and offer names and donations to help their neighbors, and there is also a lot of participation from area supermarkets. The Pawtucket Lions and Pawtucket Rotary do a lot of the volunteer work for the effort, and Armando & Sons Meat Market makes a large donation of turkeys. The Make-A-Wish Foundation also contributes to the project.

Many local businesses in the city sponsor at least two or three baskets every year, she added, saying she’s proud of how big the city has made this effort.

The only requirements for someone to receive a basket are that they be in need and that they live in Pawtucket, said Grebien. She said it’s important to her to make sure the donations that come in each year are going to help city residents, which is why recipients are asked to show some proof of residency, such as a bus pass or electric bill.

A letter goes out to business owners and residents each year asking them to help their neighbors through the basket drive, said Grebien.

“We say you’re helping your neighborhood,” she said.

The basket drive also partners with local schools to find families in need.

Grebien said veteran turkey basket volunteer Herb Weiss is quick to remind her just how far this program has come. When she took over operations for former Pawtucket First Lady Joan Doyle, she started from scratch, with no names on the list for receiving baskets.

Items placed in holiday baskets include a large turkey, pasta, rice, beans, potatoes, mac and cheese, dessert, and loaves of bread. Adding rice and beans reflects a desire to touch a diverse range of city cultures through the effort, she said.

This year’s loading and distribution event will take place Tuesday, Nov. 20, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 80 Fountain St. On distribution day, people come out to help deliver baskets to homes, as well as help load recipients’ cars once they receive the food.

“There is a lot of community pride,” said Grebien.

To inquire about volunteering with the effort or receiving a basket, call City Hall and ask for either Herb Weiss or Sandy Benson. Signup dates at City Hall are Monday, Oct. 15, 9 a.m. to noon, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2 to 5 p.m., and Wednesday, Oct. 17, 9 a.m. to noon.