Each Christmas Eve, when Debbie Gehret and her family would return home from her mother-in-law’s house, they would find a basket filled with pine boughs, tangerines and nuts. “It was a sweet gesture from a neighbor that served as a seed of inspiration,” she said.  “The following year I created small baskets filled with things like soaps, candles and mugs for some dear widowed friends of mine.”

From there, that seed sprouted into a plan when Debbie and Mary Doherty collaborated. “We decided to do it through the church and create a ministry, blessing people in the church.  That was over 20 years ago!”  Mary remembers the first recipient. “There was a widow, Jimmie Karsgard, who was the impetus for the idea.  She wrote us nice thank you notes, and was on the list until she passed at age 97.”  Mary’s vision took the ministry to another level by partnering with Senior Coastsiders and the Mental Health resource group in town.  “We grew our list of people connected to the church, and it became a much larger and joyful project,” said Debbie. “Mary named the ministry, ‘Encouragement Baskets’ because that’s what our goal is.”

Throughout the year the two gather up baskets, collect cheery items, and make scarves. “In the beginning, we collected sample sized toiletries, but now people in our church faithfully donate items,” said Debbie. “The Mariners Helping Hands Team also partnered with us, so we’re able to add gift cards to baskets, since some people have needs that require more encouragement than others.”   Then on packing day a “store” is set up in the Surfs Up room to create the baskets from, and volunteers come to help assemble and distribute them.  “We start with widows and single parents, and then add in others that could use a lift.  Anyone can be added– they don’t have to be from Mariners,” said Debbie.

“Over 200 baskets are distributed each year. Thank goodness for our volunteers,” said Debbie. “It’s a long day, but truly rewarding. God is using us to encourage others.”

Anxiety in a person’s heart weighs them down, but an encouraging word bring them joy. – Proverbs 12:25

By Marina Scofield, Volunteer Storyteller