Baskets of love

| November 19, 2012 | 0 Comments

Burnsville parish members box Thanksgiving meals for those in need


Melissa Doeden, a catechist at Mary, Mother of the Church in Burnsville, helps Paige, left, and Ethan Sprenger assemble boxes of food Nov. 14 as part of the parish Thanksgiving Baskets program. Volunteers buy groceries and assemble boxes of food that are given to the poor in the community. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Jean MacFarland and Bill Keatts lost their spouses seven weeks apart nine years ago.

When they started dating each other months later, talk of marriage surfaced. It was then that Jean shared something she wanted Bill to know: She played a key role in the Thanksgiving Basket program at Mary, Mother of the Church in Burnsville.

And, she was not about to quit, even if there were wedding bells in their future. Bill wholeheartedly supported that decision.

“The Thanksgiving Basket program came with the marriage,” said Jean, who married Bill at St. Olaf in Minneapolis on May 21, 2005.

Now, they work together, which they started doing in 2004, when Bill tried it for the first time. She is the quarterback of the operation, supervising the assembly of baskets and then loading them up to deliver to area hunger relief agencies. Bill is what she calls the “chief go-fer.”

“We kid about taking a sabbatical from retirement because we haven’t stopped working, we just don’t get paid anymore,” said Bill, 71. “In the forseeable future, I think we just keep going.”

Said Jean, 69:?“I feel that it helps us not look so much inward as outward together. And, I think that’s a real strong bonding piece.”

In fact, it’s a bonding experience for the parish, with roughly 1,000 pairs of hands getting involved. Some make the baskets at home and bring them in. Faith formation children then come in to assemble more, which they did on Nov. 14 for this year’s program.

This year’s goal was 285 baskets, which they exceeded. The program began in 2002, and volunteers have seen a rise in need as suburban families deal with the struggling economy.

Jean MacFarland and her husband Bill Keatts enjoy the chance to volunteer together at the Thanksgiving Baskets program at Mary, Mother of the Church in Burnsville. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Expression of faith

Lynne Ferkinhoff came this year with her 11-year-old son Logan. This was their ninth year.

“It’s an expression of our Christian faith to stand up and answer the call to serve people in need,” she said. “It fills me with hope, gratitude and inspiration to see how the Mary, Mother of the Church community comes together through this project to provide support and kindness to those trying to get through a difficult time. The Thanksgiving Baskets project is truly a way in which loving thy neighbor comes to life.”

Among the volunteers working feverishly to assemble the baskets is the pastor of Mary, Mother of the Church, Father Jim Zappa. In fact, on the day the kids came to work on the baskets, he could be seen walking down the hallway with a cart full of groceries that he would turn into a basket of his own to give.

Parishioners are given a list of groceries to buy, and they can either buy them and make baskets at home, or they can buy some or all of the items needed and drop them off at church.

One parishioner even took it a step further. Amy Perron posted an invitation on her Facebook page for a Thanksgiving Baskets party at her home. Friends and neighbors showed up and made 30 baskets.

“It just really shows the generosity of this parish and their heart for their community,” said Nancy Huddleston, pastoral associate for communications who herself volunteers in the program. “Every basket feeds a family of four. So, it allows them to give that to someone.”

For people like Terri Joos, it allows the chance to continue a multi-generational tradition. Her mother set an example of giving to the parish, which she passed on to her three daughters and now to her grandson, R.J. Joos-Yennie. The two worked side by side at this year’s assembly event.

“I don’t have a lot of monetary resources as a widow with three children, but I can give my time and my energy and help in whatever way I can,” she said. “It’s just a great program, when you see all the kids out there decorating the boxes and putting everything in. [R.J.] just loves to do the cart. We got here an hour and a half early and we’ve been putting stuff out on the tables. He’ll grow up doing this.”

With volunteers like MacFarland not wavering in their commitment, Father Zappa is confident the program will keep going strong. It has grown steadily since it began 11 years ago with a goal of 25 baskets. Volunteers exceeded that goal, and continue to do so today, thanks to the dedication of MacFarland and many others.

“This is her passion; she and her husband Bill have been just marvelous,”?Father Zappa said. “I wish I had a hundred of her — clone her and spread her around in different areas. She’s really powerful, her enthusiasm, her love of Christ, her spirituality. It just all comes together and it’s infectious. She’s one of those model disciples that I think we all have within us.”

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