Othello volunteers distribute food, toys

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  • Emry Dinman/Sun Tribune - The Othello fire station was a whirlwind of dozens of volunteers quickly filling bags and baskets with toys, canned goods and other things families might need for Christmas.

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    Fay Coats/courtesy photo - Quilters from Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Othello load quilts into Charlotte and Merritt Johnson's van. Volunteers distributed the quilts as needed when the community baskets were delivered.

  • Emry Dinman/Sun Tribune - The Othello fire station was a whirlwind of dozens of volunteers quickly filling bags and baskets with toys, canned goods and other things families might need for Christmas.

  • 1

    Fay Coats/courtesy photo - Quilters from Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Othello load quilts into Charlotte and Merritt Johnson's van. Volunteers distributed the quilts as needed when the community baskets were delivered.

OTHELLO — Dozens of volunteers packed into the Adams County Fire District No. 5 station in Othello on a frigid morning Saturday, filling grocery carts, cars and trucks full of toys, blankets, clothes and food for the 44th annual Othello Christmas Basket event.

With a mix of orderly precision and chaotic madness unique to sizable events run by volunteers, Othello residents circled speedily around rows and rows of canned goods and shelves lined with thousands of toys for hundreds of children. Those volunteers filled baskets to the brim before coming back around for another pass, repeating the process for hours until the warehouse was empty.

Anyone standing still in the warehouse was likely to get trampled by the many determined looking people divvying up a mountain of goods with breakneck speed, all in the spirit of giving back to those in need. As baskets got filled, car after car in a long procession filed in and out of the station’s large bay doors, waiting to deliver the goods to their recipient families.

Many, including 14-year-old Chris Saavedra, have been volunteering on the Saturday before Christmas for years. Saavedra first volunteered when he was 6, and has been pitching in at these events with his family ever since. It’s not uncommon for parents to enlist their kids to volunteer at this event, local resident and event organizer Ken Johnson said, and they tend to volunteer year after year.

“We have a lot of parents who bring their kids in when they’re young to help out, and they take them out for delivering and showing them there’s another life out there,” Johnson said.

Spearheaded by Johnson, the yearly event gathers donations to help supply goods that volunteers put into holiday baskets for needy families in the community. The baskets included dried and canned food, age-appropriate toys for children, coats and blankets, as well as a full Christmas ham.

While many Holiday events across the region try to bring a little extra Christmas cheer to families in need, few operate on the scale of the Othello Christmas basket. The event typically delivers around 350 baskets, and this year reached around 380. Doing so requires a small army of volunteers, and rounding them up has always been surprisingly easy, Johnson said.

“It’s word of mouth; everybody knows this thing happens every year and they just show up. It’s just a miracle,” Johnson said. “And we have lots of repeats. We had people who’ve helped for 25 years or more, and they help guide the new ones.”

With so many baskets to deliver and not enough hours in the day to do so, Johnson and some of the most dedicated volunteers continued to put together and deliver baskets through Christmas Eve. In some cases, those baskets were going to families that volunteers noticed while delivering baskets elsewhere, pushing up the total number delivered bit by bit. It hasn’t emptied out the mountain of canned goods, Johnson said, and the local food bank will receive what’s left over.

Fundraising to support the massive event started only a month ago with a pancake feed at the fire station Nov. 25, and schools in the area held canned food drives. It’s a testament to the community’s engagement with the annual event that donations pour in so quickly, Johnson said.

“Othello is a very generous community,” Johnson said. “I think this community really takes care of itself.”

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