The Pekin Lions Club’s annual Christmas Basket Project kicked off Wednesday and is asking for donations for needy families.
This is the 72nd annual Basket Project, the service having begun in 1947. The baskets, which consist of a box of perishable and a box of non-perishable food items, go to low-income individuals or families who’ve been nominated by others in the community.
“Sometimes we’re able to provide to most everybody that was nominated. Sometimes we can’t, because we don’t have the money or we get too many people nominated. One year, I think we had 650 nominations, and we just couldn’t meet them all,” said Terry Knollenberg, Pekin Lions Club Christmas Basket co-chair.
The Lions Club used to serve 400 families in financial need, but with low donations these days, it’s gone down to 300 families, said Knollenberg. Last year, the Lions Club even fell a bitshort of its $17,000 goal.
Donations can be of any dollar amount and can be gifted at any time of the year. Sometimes Knollenberg sees $5 or $10 donations, and other times, he sees somebody donating $1,000. Any amount is helpful, though.
The Lions Club doesn’t except donations over the phone or by credit or debit card. Donations can be made by mailing a check to PO Box 751, Pekin, IL 61555. Donations should be marked Christmas Basket. Due to the way the basket drive works and the food is packaged, the Lions Club doesn’t accept perishable or non-perishable food donations.
Around $550 of the money already raised this year, Knollenberg said, was raised on Tuesday, Oct. 23, at the Lions Club’s Soup Sampler Supper fundraiser.
Families can be nominated by filling out a form available at the Lions Club website, www.pekinLions.org; its Facebook page, @pekinLionsclub; and every Wednesday on the Community page in the Pekin Daily Times. Deadline for nominations is Nov. 30. There are no requirements for nominations.
Cards will be sent out a week before baskets are distributed. Individuals or families will need the cards on distribution day in order to receive their baskets.
The Lions Club is hoping to raise $17,000 this year. It will get 250 baskets, but it hopes to give out 300. It will do that by giving out vouchers to the individuals or families that fall past the 250 baskets. The individual or family will be able to use the voucher to pick up certain items from ValuCheck at 2111 Court St.
Baskets will be distributed from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Dec. 22, at Pekin Community High School’s Holman Technology Education Center. The Lions Club is always looking for people to help with distribution day. Anyone can come help by simply stopping by the day of or by calling Knollenberg at 309-202-3723.
Knollenberg said people don’t always pick up their baskets, the number sometimes going as high as 75 or more people.
“Some people, I think, their names were put in by somebody that thought they could use (the basket), and they just don’t think that they have the need for it,” he said. “Some people may have forgotten that they got the card and (that) they were supposed to go that day. Some may not have a way to get there.”
Out of the people without transportation, Knollenberg has seen someone collect their basket with a motorized scooter with a trailer behind it, one couple showed up with a push wheelchair that they put their basket on to wheel home, and another couple was just going to carry it home. While occasionally it can help families out, the Lions Club doesn’t have the man power to deliver anymore. Delivery was also stopped due to some taking advantage of it, like people not being home during the time of delivery.
In past years, the Lions Club had to find homes for 15 to 20 leftover baskets, some going to The HOPE Chest on Derby Street and, one year, to The House of Hope on Fourth Street.
For certain families, the need for the baskets can be extreme.
“When we used to deliver, I’ve gone to houses where there’s absolutely no furniture in the house, and the kids are there and you can tell there’s a need there,” Knollenberg said.
“I remember one older lady (who) we delivered to every year for as long as we were delivery,” he added. “She lived in what was a converted garage, and it had two rooms. It had a bathroom and (another) room. The other room was a kitchen, a living room and a bedroom, and that’s where she lived. You could tell she just didn’t have any money and she didn’t have too many friends, because when we showed up, she always wanted to talk and always had something she wanted us to do.”
Knollenberg worries that sometimes people may be taking advantage of the drive.
“Today, you really don’t know,” he said. “You see them come in in some really rackety cars, and they got two or three kids in there and they’re not dressed real well. You say, ‘Well, we did good there.’ And, like I say, you see the ones coming in in really nice pickup trucks that cost $45(,000), $50,000 and you wonder whether they’re picking up for someone else who's needing (and) doesn’t have a way to pick up, or if they’re using the system. And there’s no way for us to tell. It’s one of those things where we do the best we can, but it’s an imperfect (system).”
For more information about the Basket Project, call 309-477-1052 or visit the Lions Club website or its Facebook page.