By Helen Mitternight
Every Thanksgiving for the past 11 years, some people have had their turkey with a side of stuffing boxes.
The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Charleston Basket Brigade provides boxes full of the makings for holiday meals to more than 3,500 Charleston-area families every year and, for some volunteers, this is as much a part of their tradition as football and cranberry sauce. Each box feeds a family of six to 10.
Pam Hartley brought a passion for serving the community when she moved to Charleston in 2008 in the middle of the recession that led to even higher levels of childhood hunger. Inspired by a similar effort by self-help guru Tony Robbins, she partnered with friend Michelle Scarafile to found Charleston Basket Brigade, which now prepares Thanksgiving meals for families whose children attend Title 1 schools, the area’s poorest, as well as families suggested by churches, nonprofits, and people who nominate themselves or others.
“We have thousands of people volunteer to assemble and deliver. Some have been doing it all 11 years, but every year, we have brand-new people in our community volunteer,” Pam says. “Thanksgiving is one of those times that doesn’t always have a light shined on it because it’s right before Christmas. Families really love bringing their kids out and serving.”
In addition to a turkey, each box has canned corn, canned green beans, stuffing mix, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, marshmallows, fresh rolls, and even a frozen or fresh pumpkin pie.
Of course, this much food and delivery doesn’t come without cost; the organization must raise more than $120,000 each year, and she is grateful for her corporate sponsors.
Carolina One Cares, the charitable arm of the real estate company, helps with raffles, volunteers and fundraising; The Coastal Cupboard dedicates proceeds from a knife-sharpening event; Gwynn’s of Mount Pleasant is a partner; Lowcountry Grocers’ Piggly Wiggly handles food orders; and Pam’s own company, Momentum Marketing, markets and coordinates the event.
Home chefs who execute a complicated holiday meal can appreciate the logistical feats that Basket Brigade accomplishes.
Before packing day at the Charleston Convention Center, the team orders food and supplies and maps out deliveries, and matches volunteer cars with the number of meals per vehicle. On packing day, between 500 and 1,000 volunteers are deployed as drivers or at massive tables lining one side of the exhibit hall to assemble boxes and stuff them with food and a note that says the meal is courtesy of someone anonymous “who cares about you.” Brawn and equipment are used to load the boxes into the waiting vehicles. Volunteers from Communities in Schools reaches out to recipients who might not be home to clarify delivery details.
The true impact of Basket Brigade is not in the packing, though; it’s in the individual kitchen at delivery.
Pam recalls the year a volunteer delivered a meal to a woman with no refrigerator for the turkey (she was using a cooler) and no stove to cook dinner (she was hoping to use her church’s stove).
“The man was a businessman and he arranged to have a refrigerator and stove delivered to her home. He didn’t want the publicity and I just heard about it by chance. It just warmed my heart,” Pam says. “We do hear from the people delivering that this is the single most rewarding thing they have ever done. Some people who get the food are in tears. It means so much to people that our volunteers come back again and again.”
Pam says that, at first, Basket Brigade was all about delivering food, but she now realizes it’s so much more.
“We’re creating memories for these families by letting them actually bring their families around the table and have a meal together for Thanksgiving. It’s about memories.”
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Charleston Basket Brigade is always in need of:
- Donations: It costs $30 to feed each family.
- Volunteer delivery drivers: Drivers deliver in pairs for safety.
- Volunteers to assemble meals: Individuals or groups can help.
Donations or volunteering can be done through the website at charlestonbasketbrigade.com.
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