Volunteers invited to help with big Happy Baskets effort

Volunteers invited to help with big Happy Baskets effort

Melinda Acosta and John Johnson, of Cumberland Happy Baskets, with goods delivered during last year’s Thanksgiving food distribution event. (Breeze photo by Charles Lawrence)

CUMBERLAND – Cumberland Happy Baskets, celebrating its 28th year of distributing food baskets and toys this upcoming holiday season, is again staring down heavy demand in 2019.

John Johnson, of Happy Baskets, said the group is expecting between 350 and 400 baskets to be donated to local families for Thanksgiving, and about the same number for Christmas. After he gets official tallies back based on recommendations from local school officials, that number has the potential to reach 500 for Thanksgiving, he said.

Baskets for the Thanksgiving giveaway will be put together on Thursday, Nov. 21, starting at 6 p.m. at the Cumberland Senior Center at the Monastery. The work typically lasts for about an hour.

Happy Baskets is still based at the Cumberland Senior Center after major renovations there, but Johnson said he’s still working out how the operation will function based on the changes there.

Despite a strong economy, there are still plenty of families struggling, and it’s why this volunteer organization depends on the schools to make recommendations based on the families they’re aware of who are barely getting by, said Johnson.

Organizers never question recommendations from the schools or local churches, but if someone comes directly to Johnson saying they’re in need, he asks them to prove their need, such as evidence of some other sort of assistance, and show that they live in Cumberland.

Johnson told The Breeze he’s always found it odd that the food basket total at Christmas is lower. “It makes no sense to me,” he said, because those who receive a basket at Thanksgiving automatically receive a coupon for another one at Christmas.

“I’ve never been able to put my finger on it,” he said. “From where I’m sitting, it should be the exact opposite.”

Volunteers are needed for the planned pre-Thanksgiving distribution effort, but they aren’t asked to sign up on a final list. The reasoning for that, said Johnson, is that if he has a sign-up list of 150 people saying they’re coming, and then some drop out, there won’t be enough volunteers.

If there are too many volunteers at the Nov. 21 distribution event, those who come don’t have to stay, said Johnson. They can just have some cookies and leave.

Anyone wishing to volunteer a few hours of their time in sorting donations, wrapping gifts and assembling baskets is asked to call Johnson at 401-487-1282 or email hbprogram@gmail.com . Volunteers can also just show up.

Cumberland Happy Baskets is banding together again with businesses, community leaders, schoolchildren, seniors and local parishioners to assist local families in need. The program, which delivered its first basket in 1992, has distributed close to 15,000 baskets over the past 27 years. The operation of today has become “a well-oiled machine,” according to Johnson.

Donations of all kinds are welcome. Items that are needed include fresh vegetables, canned or jarred gravy, dressing mix, canned goods of all kinds and bread and rolls. These items can be dropped off at the Cumberland Senior Center located at the Monastery, 1464 Diamond Hill Road. Financial contributions are also being sought for the purchase of turkeys, fresh vegetables, dry goods and bread. Checks should be made payable to “The Happy Basket Program” and mailed to PO Box 7611, Cumberland, RI 02864.

For a complete schedule of activities on Nov. 21, visit www.happybasketsri.com .