MAROA — Barb Hastings decided she needed to be a part of the Maroa-Forsyth Christmas Basket Project because of her own experience. Nearly 25 years ago, Hastings felt the holiday spirit after she experienced a hand up.
“My husband’s family was one of the recipients,” said Hastings, of Maroa. “I felt that somebody in the family should help give back.”
She joined Barb Wilkey with the Christmas giveaway program that is an important part of the communities' holidays. The Maroa-Forsyth Christmas Basket Project provides food baskets and toys for needy families in both villages. Families can request help through various facilities, including schools and city halls. Wilkey and Hastings often offer the program to families they have met on their own as well.
The project began when a local police officer became concerned a few families would not have enough money to provide a Christmas dinner. The local grocery store donated hams while other businesses and individuals donated more food items. “We provided enough for a few families to have Christmas dinner,” Wilkey said.
The next year they helped a few more families. Wilkey organized the food boxes and bags for each family. Hastings joined her three years later. Shortly afterwards, the organizers began to collect toys for the families too. Each year they add more families to the list.
This year they will help 85 families in Maroa and Forsyth.
Diane Daggett joined the duo 15 years ago. All three women have worked in the school district. “We see a lot of need,” Wilkey said.
Families do not have to meet any qualifications to receive help from the project.
Each year, Hastings sends letters out in the community asking for families needing help.
“This (letter) is for the families,” Hastings said. “We don’t worry about the volunteers. They just show up.”
Volunteers often approach the organizers as the time gets closer. Many are students or members of school organizations and teams.
“As a teacher, and parent and a grandparent, children need to learn to give back,” Daggett said. “You need to count your blessings.”
Three days before the holidays, the ladies may get a new family in need of help. They said they never run out of shoppers and volunteers ready to help. One of the groups include the Maroa-Forsyth football team.
Football coach Josh Jostes has had his team helping for nearly 10 years.
“I don’t have to do a lot of coaxing,” he said. “I just put the date and time out. They really enjoy it.”
Many return the following years even after they have graduated. The team members along with their parents contribute to the project by packing and delivering the boxes and bags. They also host a toy drive during football games.
“We prefer the toys instead of money so they don’t have to go shopping,” Jostes said.
For nearly a week volunteers work evenings packing and labeling the boxes. That is when the community steps up. The organizers will have 40 to 50 volunteers each night organizing. The day before delivering the packages, the volunteers will shop for perishables. A few days before Christmas, the toys and food are ready for delivery.
“These two ladies can never retire from this job,” Daggett said. “I don’t know how it will get done.”
“We’ve got it down to a science,” Wilkey said. “But we have two very giving communities.”