DENVER – Fifty-two-eighty is a significant number for us in the Mile High City. On Saturday morning, nearly 2,000 volunteers packed and delivered just as many “Baskets of Joy” to seniors in need.
“In the baskets are 17 pieces of fruit, five pieces of candy, and a Christmas card that is a Holiday card,” said Denny Gray.
He’s one of several people who started the Basket of Joy project back in 1988. The year before, two baskets went to a pair of women who suffered a great financial loss.
Denver7’s own Woody Paige decided to write a Denver Post column about the women, and took it upon himself to deliver a basket of produce to show his sympathy.
Paige said the complex the women lived in was “run down,” in a sense. Paige remembered neighbors grabbing at pieces of fruit for themselves.
“I thought, there are too many lonely and elderly people,” he said.
He enlisted the help of Dan Sutton with Albertsons for help with the produce, and Denny Gray to help with other logistics.
Paige wasn't familiar with how to set up a project, so he reached out to Volunteers of America for help.
The project grew by the hundreds in the years that followed.
“We thought we'd try to do 100, then 200, then 300. At that point we knew we had a little bigger project than we had initially planned,” Sutton said.
Hundreds of volunteers and hundreds of baskets quickly turned to the thousands.
The community partnerships also grew.
Denver Mattress Company is one sponsor, and has offered its warehouse near I-70 and Havana for assembly. Other sponsors include The Denver Post Community Foundation, InnovAge, Bellco, Safeway and Albertsons.
The plan has always been to surprise seniors with something they didn't suspect. In this case, a basket either requested by family or friends.
Stacy Schafer with The Denver Post’s Community Foundation said the recipients are nominated through their website. Those submitting leave the senior’s name and number. In some cases, the recipient may nominate themselves.
“The people that get baskets don't have anyone else for Christmas,” Sutton said.
After three decades of Christmases, Gray and Sutton are wrapping up and retiring.
“It's time to turn this over to other people,” Gray said.
Woody Paige is the only originator who will be staying on-board.
“I thought it would be the last year,” Paige said. Though, he acknowledged, he would need some help.
“We have to get new organizations involved and new people to run it. But VoA and Albertsons and The Denver Post have agreed.”
Denver7 spoke with Sutton about his retirement; he said, “It's more than just the three of us that started it -- or the four of us. This is a huge community thing that people need. So, I'd certainly like to see that continue.”
Click here if you would like to sign up to volunteer, or nominate a recipient for next year’s Basket of Joy.