Some Bunny Loves You
What would Easter be without Easter baskets? After a season of Lent, they are a greatly anticipated symbol of joy, hope and new life. Everyone loves Easter baskets, but unfortunately, not every child gets one. There’s a ministry in town that is doing something about this. Last year, the Communities Uniting in Prayer and Service Basket Ministry provided about 1,500 gift baskets, distributed at Easter and at Christmas, for those in need. It’s a creative way to enrich and brighten lives by sharing from our abundance.
Baskets Filled With Love
The gift baskets, wrapped with cellophane and ribbons, include new and gently used items. They are one-of-a-kind creations, lovingly made by volunteers for specific ages and genders. Easter baskets are designated for children, from infants up to age 17. The Christmas basket distribution is for both adults and children. There is no candy in the Easter baskets, but they are filled with colorful plastic eggs with surprises inside and Easter related games and coloring books. Also included is an assortment of the following: a stuffed animal, toothbrush and toothpaste, age appropriate books, puzzles, toys, videos, crayons and/or sidewalk chalk and maybe socks or a cap. Sometimes baskets follow a specific color or theme, such as cars and trucks, Barbie or Star Wars – it all depends on how the volunteer making the basket puts things together.
Baskets are made by “elves,” volunteers who earned the rights to that name when the ministry started in 2007 with Christmas baskets. At that time, head elf, Sue Steck-Turner, was making baskets from her home. Since then, the ministry has expanded greatly. Last year, over 1,100 baskets were distributed at Christmas and 500 at Easter. The ministry is now housed in a special workshop, where several rooms are filled with shelves of donated items. Everything is neatly labeled as to type and gender and age to make it easier for elves to find just the right thing to go into a particular basket.
Elves also clean items donated for baskets, repair anything that is broken and replace batteries in toys and games. Elves may never know the person who receives the basket they make, as many times distribution is done through caseworkers. Yet, Steck-Turner has seen the gratitude of those receiving baskets, and case workers have reported the joy they have seen when recipients open a basket and examine each item individually.
A “Green” Ministry
Steck-Turner has made this a very “green” ministry. Old wrapping paper is shredded to provide colorful filler for baskets. Newspaper sleeves are collected and stuffed to use under the filler to help prop things up for display. Old bottle caps are used to create pieces for travel-size games of checkers made with special checkerboard cloth. For pre-school children, broken crayons donated by teachers are melted down and molded into fun shapes in just the right size for small children to use. Old toys are repaired and refurbished for new use. It’s a way to keep things out of the landfill and creatively reuse things donated.
Community Volunteers And Donors
Volunteers come from various churches and organizations throughout the community. Students from the ULL AmeriCorps program have participated, as well as schools, church groups, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. There is something everyone can do to help. Those who are homebound contribute handmade, knitted scarves and hats that are perfect to include in Christmas baskets distributed in winter.
Businesses contribute money and/or items, such as toothpaste and toothbrushes from local dentists. Some retail stores donate unsold items to be used in baskets. A man from Michigan has a ministry of making small wooden crosses, and he sends them to CUPS to be included in baskets. “The support for the basket ministry has been increasing,” Steck-Turner says, “but so has the need.”
Distribution of baskets takes place twice a year before Christmas and Easter. CUPS notifies social service agencies and others through email to apply for baskets. Requests come from individuals and a variety of social service agencies, including case workers, schools, prisons and homeless shelters. Volunteers work year round and begin working after the first of the year to make baskets for Easter. This year’s distribution date for Easter is April 5. The Christmas distribution application process will start in October.
The Basket Ministry also provides birthday baskets for clients of LARC and a non-profit organization, A Heart for Children. Steck-Turner says other agencies are welcome to apply for birthday basket distribution. To help fund the Basket Ministry, special baskets are made and sold for Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Teacher Appreciation, Halloween and Thanksgiving. Funds raised are used to buy extra hygiene items and other things needed for baskets. Call the CUPS Basket number (337-298-9968) to order baskets for sale.
The Ministry Continues To Grow
CUPS was started after the hurricanes of 2005 (Katrina and Rita). It grew from a need to help people displaced from the storms restart their lives. New and gently used household items were collected and distributed to those in need. Since then, the ministry has grown and expanded its mission to help people get back on their feet after other emergencies, such as fire and financial difficulty. The needs have continued and so has the ministry. The organization has one paid staff member and relies on volunteer help for collecting, sorting and distributing goods.
The basket ministry grew from a need to reuse and repurpose household and decorative items donated at Christmas and Easter. “We wanted to use all of it rather than just throw it out,” says Steck-Turner. “There is so much abundance and so much waste in our world. It’s good to be able to repurpose things and give to others.”