What would you do with a shopping budget of $15,000? That’s what Linda Craigie and her partner in shopping, Debi Renfro, spent on their May basket project.
The money helped them offer 200 seniors a bag filled with $75 worth of everything from shampoo to nutritious snacks.
The two women are members of Assistance League of Kansas City, a 35-year-old non-profit that provides for community members who are in need. The programs the group runs are numerous and touch all ages.
“We do lot of projects for the community, but no one knows about us,” Craigie said, noting that some call the League a “busy secret.”
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The unique outreach project Craigie and Renfro were focused on involved providing May baskets for senior citizens receiving Meals on Wheels in Platte and Clay counties.
“May basket” was somewhat of a misnomer. They were not delivered on May first and they were not baskets filled with flowers. The senior recipients far preferred their care packages. The heavily loaded blue and red canvas bags held items suggested by Platte Senior Services Inc. and Shepherd’s Center of the Northland.
Armed with the suggestions, the women compiled a shopping list and started out on their marathon buying trip, after recruiting Linda Craigie’s husband as a helper.
“People stared at our overflowing carts,” Craigie said with a smile. “We told them we had a large family.”
A very large family, indeed, as the women soon realized they were depleting the inventory on some store shelves. Buying 200 bottles of shampoo, for example, will tend to do that, so some items were bought online.
Assistance League’s clubhouse and administrative center in Gladstone was soon stacked with boxes of lotion, toothbrushes and toothpaste, socks, crayons, adult coloring books, individual servings of mac and cheese, applesauce, trail mix, cookies and Gatorade to name a handful of items.
“My wife, Carol, was overwhelmed,” said Park Lightfoot. “It was so much and she went through it more than once and has things sorted in piles.”
A room full of Assistance League members formed an assembly line to fill the bags. The old adage that many hands make light work was validated.
The organization is made entirely up of volunteers, Craigie said. In 2016-2017, 368 volunteers provided 56,056 hours of service.
The filled bags were delivered by the carload to Shepherd’s Center of the Northland in Clay County and to Platte Senior Services Inc. in Platte County for distribution by their Meals and Wheels volunteers.
And that is when all the shopping, assembling and hauling reaped dividends of smiles and excitement. It was Christmas in a May basket.
“Oh, lotion,” said Gary Minnis, holding up a bottle from his basket. “I can use that. I never remember to buy it.”
When Susan Heim-Davis found the $35 Walmart gift card she was ecstatic.
“My sister is coming and she promised to take me to Walmart,” she said. “Tomorrow is my birthday.”
Carolyn Huber was sure she could find a way to Walmart to spend hers and started planning the trip.
Irwin and Lois Boussard each received a bag when their meals were delivered. He was surprised by the contents.
Assistance League’s thrift store, The ReSale Shop, 6601 N. Oak Trafficway, funds the majority of the 10 Assistance League programs.
Assistance League of Kansas City is a chapter of National Assistance League. The local chapter has an evening group, the Heartland Auxiliary, and a committed group of seventh- to 12th-graders named Assisteens.
Programs include the Assault Survivor Kit assembled for MOCSA for victims of sexual assault. It is the only organization that provides the service.
The May basket project was a one-time community outreach project. Other regular programs include Operation School Bell, Operation Child in need, and Best Foot Forward — a partnership with Metropolitan Lutheran Ministries to provide clothing for people reentering the workforce.