More than 950 families -- more than 3,000 individuals -- received an early Christmas present Saturday: food baskets.

More than 950 families -- more than 3,000 individuals -- received an early Christmas present Saturday: food baskets.

Residents went through the former Neosho National Guard Armory during the 20th annual Newton County Food Basket Brigade.

“This is my first time going through this program,” Terry White of Granby said.

But for his wife, April, this was her second time participating. To register for the program, she went to the Neosho Help Center and signed up.

While the couple moved through the former armory – which was loaded with non-perishable food and frozen food – they pushed a shopping cart with a number displayed to signify how many people are in their family. Volunteers placed the food into the shopping carts.

The goal of the brigade is to provide food for a traditional Christmas dinner plus basic staples to last up to two weeks for Newton County residents certified as low income, disadvantaged, disabled or elderly in need of assistance.

Nearly all individuals and families certified to receive food through the Food Basket Brigade are also receiving assistance from DFS, Economic Security Corporation, the Neosho Crosslines, the Help Center and other relief agencies.

The basic premise of the basket brigade is that in this land of plenty, no one should have to go hungry at Christmas.

Asked if Terry and April White would cook some of the food when they got home Saturday night, April White looked at her shopping cart with a smile.

“Yes, I will,” she said. “I am going to make a big dinner tonight. I will probably cook beans and fried potatoes.”

She noted she would like to see a similar food basket brigade in other counties.

“It is a great way to help out,” she said.

Also pushing a shopping cart was Dillan Pruitt of Neosho. Pruitt has been not only receiving food but also helping collect the food.

“I have been picking up (canned) food for about the last seven years and receiving the food as well,” Pruitt said.

“I think that it is a good deal,” he said. “Something like this really helps.”

Trying to help out his fellow neighbors, Pruitt said the food would be put to good use.

“And I will probably take some of it (food) to help someone else,” Pruitt said. “I believe that people should help people.”

Volunteering

Newton County Food Basket Brigade Vice President Lewis Cole best summed up the countless volunteers who helped out on Saturday and in the past.

“Without these volunteers, we would be dead in the water,” Cole said. “They enjoy helping people. You can see it in their faces.”

Smiles beamed from the faces of Kenneth and Exa Gates as they handed food.

“We arrived at 7 a.m. (Saturday) and hopefully will stay here for the duration until the last party gets through,” Kenneth said as he put a package of flour in a shopping cart. “I enjoy helping. It is a good cause. We come here for the joy of it, seeing the smiles on the people’s faces.”

“This community, for 20 years (we have) told them what the need is and they seem to come together and do whatever is necessary to meet the need,” said Dave Winegardner, publicity chairman for the Food Basket Brigade.

A family time

Brittany Frazier was busy gathering cans to be placed in a shopping cart.

She said she was encouraged by her family to come and help.

“They helped here last year,” noted Frazier.

So this year with her grandparents, Larry and Freda Rogers, and parents, Erwin and Latisha Frazier, she volunteered her time to help out.

“I traded my shift at work this morning to come out and help,” she said with a smile. “I think that this Food Basket Brigade is a good thing.”

She was not the only one. On the other end of the armory, Elayne Launius was putting snack cakes in shopping carts as her grandchildren, 9-year-old Nathan Launius and Ashley Launius, 11, were helping. Nathan, who was a first time worker, was putting vegetable oil in the shopping carts. Ashley was putting in and removing cardboard boxes. It was Ashley’s idea to help out.

“I brought to (Granby Elementary School) 1,200 to 1,300 cans of food,” she said. “Since then, I have been helping out during this event.”

As the day came to a close, any leftover food or monetary donations would be given to the Neosho Help Center to purchase food or to restock the food pantry. That food will be used to help families in January.

Since its beginning in 1988, the Food Basket Brigade has collected more than 1.5 million pounds of food for the Christmas baskets.

Neosho Daily News