TERRE HAUTE —
The cramped elevator in the northside apartment building lurched uncomfortably as the six people on board looked at each other with concern, wondering if they might not be stuck together for much of Christmas Eve.
“Well, at least we’ll have plenty to eat,” joked Kayte Howard, looking at the roughly 20-pound box of food she was carrying as the elevator reluctantly and slowly began to move.
In a few moments, Howard, her sisters Jennifer Clements and Jane Ann Weger and their mother, Becky Thompson, were smiling and greeting Betty Auterson as Betty’s dog, Precious, a four-pound, white, Chihuahua, barked menacingly at the intruders.
This was just the first stop for the sisters and their mom. They had six more apartments or homes in the city to visit before calling it a day and, they admitted, finishing their Christmas shopping.
“We’ve done this every year,” Clements said of delivering the Christmas food baskets, part of the Tribune-Star’s annual effort to help hundreds of the city’s neediest families. This year, more than 60 families and individuals volunteered to deliver the big boxes of food along with half-gallons of milk to 500 different homes in the city.
“You don’t know how well I appreciate this,” Auterson said, gratefully accepting her box of food, which included ham, sweet potatoes, canned goods, macaroni and cheese, fresh fruit, bread, milk and pumpkin pie. As usual, Baesler’s Market provided the food at cost and B&B Foods donated a refrigerated truck for its temporary storage.
Started in 1924 by employee Andrew Keifer, the Tribune-Star food basket drive is a massive effort with the look of a well-coordinated National Guard rescue operation in the pre-dawn hours on Christmas Eve. Terre Haute North Vigo High School Junior ROTC students, most dressed in military fatigues, quickly and efficiently load food boxes into vehicles streaming through the newspaper’s southside parking area. Michelle Poorman, a Tribune-Star employee who shares leadership of the effort with fellow-employee Kim Wilkerson, directs traffic wearing much-needed ear muffs and heavy gloves as volunteers roll to a stop for their cargo.
“I love it. I love it. I love it,” said volunteer Barbara Lidster as she waited for her vehicle to be loaded with food baskets. She has been helping deliver baskets on Christmas Eve for more than a decade, she said. Morgan, her son, was in a vehicle beside her. He helped his mom deliver baskets as a youngster and now continues on his own, she said. “This is Christmas,” she said smiling.
It was also cold, about 10 degrees, as volunteers rushed boxes and milk jugs around the parking lot. Crows, heading out of town in the early dawn, flew over head. Throughout the morning, the temperatures stayed in the teens.
“I just like to help people, so I volunteered,” said a red-faced Kyrsten Stump, one of the ROTC volunteers who stood out because of the red pajama pants she was wearing during the operation. Fellow ROTC freshmen Chris Purcell and Austyn White were also enjoying the hard work of the morning.
Hundreds of area residents donate to the basket fund each year, allowing the Tribune-Star, its employees and volunteers to carry out this annual tradition. The Salvation Army provides the names of families in need. The newspaper partners with the Wabash Valley Community Foundation so that donations are tax deductible. Boo’s Crossroads Café provides breakfast for the early morning teams of volunteers at the newspaper offices on South Seventh Street. Tribune-Star employees and their families put together the baskets at the paper’s Margaret Avenue production facilities Dec. 23, cutting the cost of each basket.
As of Christmas Eve, donations totaled more than $16,000. Donations are still being accepted by dropping off or mailing contributions to Tribune-Star Basket Fund, 222 S. Seventh St., Terre Haute, IN 47807.
“It’s a good way to give back and give a little holiday cheer,” said Troy Fears, executive director of the United Way of the Wabash Valley, who was among pre-dawn volunteers with his brother, Tim. “We all need a little help from time to time,” he said. “If we can bring a little holiday cheer, that’s what it’s all about.”
Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or firstname.lastname@example.org.