Another record set to be shattered for Cumberland Happy Baskets

Another record set to be shattered for Cumberland Happy Baskets

Melinda Acosta and John Johnson, co-directors of Cumberland Happy Baskets, stand inside the Cumberland Senior Center with some of the food they have collected for distribution to those in need. (Breeze photo by Charles Lawrence)

CUMBERLAND – The director of the Cumberland Happy Baskets program expects to obliterate past records for food handed out this Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“This has been an extremely busy year,” says John Johnson.

At the start of the week, some 450 coupons just for Thanksgiving baskets had been handed out, said Johnson, and he expects close to 500 will be delivered by the end of this week. Not everyone will come in for baskets, he said, but he still expects to easily exceed the high of 350 or so Thanksgiving baskets handed out last year, which also set a record.

It is expected that close to 800 food baskets will be distributed for Thanksgiving and Christmas in the Cumberland area, according to Johnson.

Asked to what he attributes the growing demand, Johnson said it’s difficult to say, though he suspects word of mouth is a key component. He said he expected a high total this year, and there have been many first-time people, particularly senior citizens, inquiring about help.

Cumberland Happy Baskets is celebrating its 27th year of distributing food baskets and toys during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays as it bands together again with local businesses, community leaders, school children, seniors and local church parishioners to assist local families in need. The program, which delivered its first basket in 1992, has distributed nearly 15,000 baskets over the past 26 years.  

Johnson is strict about the qualifications for the program, saying his personal vetting system requires that recipients of baskets be from Cumberland and that they prove that they’re in need with documentation showing that they’re on some type of government assistance.

“You have to be in need, not want,” he said, adding that on a number of occasions long-time residents have approached him about getting a basket, saying they’ve paid taxes here for 25 years or more, “so I get a basket.” Many people think this is a town program, he said, but in reality it’s a program run for the town and its needy residents.

Donations of all kinds are welcome. Items 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 at the Monastery, 1464 Diamond Hill Road. Financial contributions are also being sought in order to purchase turkeys, fresh vegetables, dry goods and bread. Checks should be made payable to “The HAPPY Basket Program” and mailed to P.O. Box 7611 Cumberland, RI 02864.

Anyone wishing to volunteer a few hours of their time in sorting donations, wrapping gifts and assembling baskets is asked to contact Johnson at 401-487-1282 or email hbprogram@gmail.com. Baskets for the Thanksgiving giveaway will be put together Thursday, Nov. 15 starting at 6 p.m. at the Cumberland Senior Center. For a complete schedule of activities, visit www.happybasketsri.com .

Johnson said the event to put baskets together has become increasingly popular with volunteers, more than 100 people coming together to complete the job in less than an hour. Some of the people who receive baskets will also volunteer in the effort.

On Monday, Nov. 19, the Monastery will again be the site of activity, this time for distribution of baskets starting at 9 a.m. The Monastery is a great location due to it being a wooded area well off the main road, said Johnson, meaning no one is gawking at the event and recipients are able to get their food without feeling intimidated.

Johnson said both town and senior center officials have always been great with this effort. In addition to food baskets, gifts are also collected for children, meaning Happy Baskets pretty much takes over much of the senior center for the weeks surrounding the holidays, said Johnson.