In our own Backyard

Story last updated at 6:48 PM on Wednesday, November 16, 2011


In our own backyard

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer


Homer News file photo

MacKenzie Ormond, above, helps fill Thanksgiving baskets last year. Conner Barger

Next week shoppers will be lining up for the big post-Thanksgiving sales. Some lower Kenai Peninsula businesses are pitching Shop Local Saturday. This Saturday marks another side of the season. Call it "Help Local Saturday."

Mindful that the spirit of giving starts with those really in need, Homer's homegrown philanthropy begins with Thanksgiving and goes through Christmas. The Thanksgiving Basket Program gives families all the fixings for a home cooked holiday meal, while the Share the Spirit Holiday Gift Basket program provides gifts and meals for Christmas.

If you get the programs and their two boosters confused, don't worry. They'll sort you out. Cochairwomen Fran Van Sandt and Amy Shumaker organize the Thanksgiving Basket program and Shari Daugherty and Kelly Glidden organize Share the Spirit.

"Many people think of this as Share the Spirit," Van Sandt said of the Thanksgiving Basket program. "Shari Daugherty and I work together. It's just we shift roles."

Starting Friday night, Thanksgiving Basket volunteers pick up food and get it ready to be sorted and packed on Saturday morning at the Homer United Methodist Church. Help with the set up at the church starting at 7 p.m. Friday. The big push comes at 9 a.m. Saturday at the church to get baskets — actually, they're boxes — packed for pickup at noon.

"If you want to come and help, come and help," Van Sandt said. "If you're getting a basket and want to come and help, that's fine with me."

For many, basket day has become a holiday tradition. Van Sandt herself has been doing it 25 years, long enough to see her grandchildren grow up as volunteers. Her grandsons Hunter Barger, 16, and Conner Barger, 17, have come every single year, Van Sandt said.

"It could be 10 to 30," she said of volunteers who show up. "I have no idea. I welcome all workers."

The Kachemak Bay Lions Club sponsors the Thanksgiving Basket program. Remember getting the hard sell over the summer to buy $100 tickets for the Harley-Davidson motorcycle raffle? That big fundraiser helps pay for the Thanksgiving baskets. This year, the lower peninsula has a record number of applications for baskets, said Van Sandt. As of press time on Tuesday, she had 189 applications, with more expected. Last year the program had 156 applications.

"The economy's hitting us," she said. "That's how it is."

With 100 turkeys on hand, Van Sandt said the program sure could use turkey donations. People can bring turkeys by on Saturday morning. Gofers — you know, go for this, go for that — would be helpful to do last-minute shopping on Saturday.

"We run out. We run out of this, we run out of that. It's inevitable," Van Sandt said.

The goal with the Thanksgiving Basket program is to give families in need a traditional holiday meal. If they run out of turkeys, they'll give single people gift cards to Safeway. Because everyone loves Thanksgiving leftovers, the basket includes items like bread for sandwiches and noodles for turkey soup to stretch the meal. Donations of food, time and money help fill the baskets. The Lions Club will pick up the balance, Van Sandt said.

"We're not cutting back because we didn't get donations," she said.

Donations will come through.

"When you think about it, this town is really amazing," Van Sandt said. "It's a giving town. It's a great place to live. ... When people give you $15, $25 that means a lot."

Homer's the kind of town where people see her around town and push money at her, she said.

"People give me a $20 bill and walk away. They know I'm going to use it for the baskets," Van Sandt said.

Don't have cash to spare?

"I say, give your time," Van Sandt said.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at