A-Tisket, A-Tasket

MandelaThis is an idea whose time has come. Too many charities are now being exposed for what they are, corporations. Oh sure, they collect money but very little of what is collected actually makes its way to the intended beneficiaries.

I have a co-worker who gives up her time and skill in the kitchen to cook, serve meals to people who would, otherwise, not eat.

I have family members who took in unwanted dogs, in a fostering program.

When W.I.P.A. (West Island Pagan Association) was still a viable organization; a couple of families would be chosen and copious amounts of food and sundries were collected and delivered.

My late father-in-law would create his own Christmas baskets for a family chosen by the Société St. Vincent de Paul.

With the advent of online life, there is so much information, so much in the way of exposure to tragedy and sadness that we end up with information overload and an aching psyche. And? The self-preservation of an emotional disconnect occurs. We may toss money at a charity just to assuage our guilt at not being able to “fix” the problems and then we close our soul’s door in order to not feel the pain and helplessness.

This is a wonderful way to give back, to show someone that you care; it is grassroots. Corporation free. You collect as you go. You build the basket according to what you can afford, keeping in mind that “afford” is something the recipient cannot do.

Go for it. Either join the Basketeers or keep your ear out for a family or individual in need. Create a basket and show someone that they aren’t forgotten.

Ever wonder what belongings a woman has when she leaves a shelter?

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Usually, nothing but the clothes on her back and whatever’s in her bag … if she has a bag. That means that when she moves into a new place, it’s unlikely she’ll have a bed, a chair or cookware.

This harsh truth inspired Montrealer Rachel Auclair to get involved with an organization called the Basketeers while studying in Ottawa. There are Basketeers chapters across Canada, offering something special for women who are just getting out of shelters. These baskets — usually laundry baskets — are filled with new wares for a person who is starting fresh: plates, utensils, a coffee maker, pots and pans, and so forth.

Auclair, who graduated last spring from McGill in social work, recently decided to start a Montreal chapter of the Basketeers.

“Donating money is abstract because you don’t really see where it’s going,” she says. “For me, the Basketeers was the ideal way to get involved. You’re not volunteering, but you’re still doing something concrete.”

Auclair’s social work program required field work, which is when she was first confronted with the realities of a women’s shelter. Whether or not they’re escaping domestic violence, women don’t have much with them when they arrive. And items that are donated to shelters tend to be second-hand. When the women leave, hand-me-downs and used furnishings are likely to be all they can afford. By contrast, these baskets provide women with useful items that are brand-new.

Donating money is abstract because you don’t really see where it’s going. — Rachel Auclair

For Auclair, it’s not just about giving these women new things of their own. It’s ultimately about giving them hope, and maybe a little boost of confidence.

“A lot of people don’t understand why women stay in a bad situation, but sometimes, those women feel that the situation they’re in is better than nothing,” Auclair explains. “This basket full of new things gives them a fresh start, and it has a symbolic impact. It can give them hope that things can get better. The basket is also telling them that they’re worth it, that they deserve nice things.”

Getting involved with the Basketeers is easy. It just requires going to the organization’s website, registering with a local chapter, and then building your basket.

You have to buy the items yourself, which is why it can take a few weeks to fill the thing. Auclair begins with an inexpensive laundry basket that can be purchased at any hardware store; then she starts looking for wares.

She shows me the one she’s working on, which includes shampoo, conditioner, plates, a utensil set, kitchenware, a toaster, a coffee maker for one, some dish towels, sponges, detergent, and a decorative tea lamp — something she threw in to make the woman feel special.

“This basket cost $150,” Auclair points out. “You don’t want to buy everything at Dollarama; you still want to buy quality items.”

For now, Auclair is the only Basketeer in Montreal. She chose to give her baskets to the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal. On Dec. 13, she and a representative from that shelter will meet in a neutral place — some shelters can’t disclose their location for safety reasons — and the baskets will be off, serving their purpose.

Auclair hopes that the Montreal chapter of the Basketeers will grow and give baskets to more shelters. In the Greater Toronto Area, where the Basketeers was first founded, the group now services most of the shelters in that city.

Another thing Auclair is hoping for eventually is sponsorship. “Some chapters have gone to Canadian Tire, and they’ve got sponsored with free baskets,” says Auclair. “Sponsors could give money so we can buy the items ourselves; or they could donate things for the basket.”

Until then, Auclair’s focus for the upcoming drop-off is to give the Native Women’s shelter as many baskets as possible.

“The shelter director will of course take any amount of baskets we can give,” Auclair says. “Cheryl Stoneburgh, who founded the Basketeers, keeps telling us that if you only get four, that’s four women you’ve helped.”

To register with the Basketeers and build a basket, go to www.basketeers.ca. For more information about the Basketeers’ Montreal chapter, contact Rachel Auclair at montrealbasketeers@gmail.com.

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